Connecting youth with nature to mitigate climate change

Leading a multi-pronged, socio-environmental mission, comprising youth, activists and media, Green Hills Trust –Almora is working towards environment protection and waste management in Himalayas in order to arrest the impact of global warming, writes Kulsum Mustafa

“Our aim is to prove wrong and eliminate forever the age-old saying which conveys that “pahadon ka pani aur pahado ki jawani kabhi yahan ke kaam nahi aati (the youth and water of hilly regions do not benefit their home turf), says Dr. Vasudha Pant, secretary of Green Hills Trust,

A proud Uttarkahnadi, hailing from an illustrious family of freedom- fighters and visionaries  Dr Vasudha, is a strong believer that individual efforts matter. She has been working on hill environment issues for almost a decade. Her passion to return to her roots was triggered when at a competitive examination she was asked by the interviewer whether it was true that in the hills generally after sunset all that the youth cared about was liquor and rest.

“It made me think and I decided that I will work towards ensuring that our youth stays motivated and awakened and will work towards sensitizing them towards improving their environment both ecologically and economically,” she said. This way, she said the youth will contribute towards the development of their state. With this vision, her home turf  Almora became her karambhoomi. And today she is striding ahead toward her goal with all passion and zeal. Her small but steady steps have impacted her life and surroundings. Frequent interactions with the locals in small groups followed by taking these issues and concerns to the authorities has really worked. Her single-minded determination and selfless devotion to the cause were soon recognized. Soon people realized that they all had to chip in, it was not just the question of their present but was the concern of the survival of their future generations. Dr. Vasudha’s sincere efforts have in the past few years empowered her mission and created a community that is focused – working towards environment protection and waste management in the Himalayas.

Stressing that it is important that we do not weigh down our hills with litter, she said for her it was important to start work at the surface. The vision was to keep the environment clean. The Trust volunteers’ work on solid waste management in the initial years impacted many policies and provided practical solutions for the municipal bodies to adopt as best practices.

For the last few years, the organization has started work on river rejuvenation by building ponds, pits, and water harvesting. Through small interactions, the Trust tries to convey the concern of water scarcity in the hills. Conserving and protecting all water bodies is the only way of ensuring that we have adequate water. How the public has taken shine to this program has been heartening.

Advocate Bhawana Joshi, Scio-Legal Consultant, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and an activist, is a volunteer with the Trust.

“I feel happy that God has chosen me to contribute to my motherland, the revival of springs and rivulets and ponds through community help and advice from experts will surely help fight potable water scarcity and aid in mitigating the effects of global warming,” says Ms. Joshi.

Work towards river rejuvenation is also seen as a way towards women’s empowerment as traditionally fetching water is women’s work, and often they have to walk miles to fulfill the water needs of the family.

Mahatim Yadav, the dynamic DFO, Almora, appreciated the work of the Trust while speaking at the national symposium organised by Green Hills Trust in Almora  on ‘Role of Media in promoting and protecting the Socio-Environmental Causes of Uttarakhand’.

In his presentation at the symposium, Yadav stressed coordination and synergy between forest resources and the locals. The delicate balance between use and misuse by the locals must be maintained in order to ensure that nature is not disturbed while the residents also can take care of their livelihood through these forests.

Inviting more public participation, he said that forest fires are a major threat to the hill environment and controlling these fires is not just the task of the forest department and the district administration but it needs people’s participation as well. Yadav said that the Trust has done wonders in instilling in the residents the great need for community participation in preventing and fighting these fires. The more awareness is spread the more the people will realize that it is ‘everyone’s business,’ because ultimately it is going to affect everyone.

The rain-lashed October afternoon symposium saw the presence of both the three-time Congress MLA, Kailash Sharma, and ex-BJP MLA,  Manoj Tewari.  They both articulated their concern about the ecology of Uttarakhand and also expressed their appreciation of the Green Hills’ ground-related work.

Tewari dwelled at length on the reasons for migration. According to statistics, Almora comes second in a migration after Pauri. The politician said that there are three chief reasons for migration. He quoted a lack of medical and education facilities, and very less employment avenues which have led to this state of affairs.

Prof  Syed Hamid Ali, who hails from Lucknow but has settled in Almora now and calls it his home even as he stressed the role of alternative media, which includes social media. He was of the view that alternative media can be very effective in projecting and tackling environmental issues.

“It is important that we explain to our youth the mountain geology and how water flows beneath the rocks, rivulets form and travel underground before reaching the surface. How important are recharge structures like contour trenches, deep pits and percolation pitches, which in turn help revive the springs,” said the Director of Vivekanand Hills Agricultural Research Institute, Dr. Laxmikant. In his concluding remarks at the symposium, he said that in this age, the importance of media has not been diminished and despite the popularity of social media, mainstream media remains an authentic way of disseminating information.

It is true that the beautiful horse saddle-shaped Almora, the cantonment town situated on a ridge of the Kumaon Hills, surrounded by thick forests of pine and fir trees, caressed by the two rivers Koshi and Suyal is famous for its wildlife, culture, and cuisinesIt is undoubtedly a paradise for nature lovers. It is a hill resort to which tourists flock, but for how long ? The ground realities cannot be ignored. Global warming is already showing its impact – and this includes the rise in landslides, dwindling water bodies, rains in the no rains months, and the destructive forest fires that destroy nature’s hard work of hundreds of years.

The culture and nature freaks should be cautioned against the bleak future if no action is taken now. And who can do this better than media and activism?

No wonder Green Hills Trust is going all out to convey the message of  SoS – Save the Devbhoomi (Land of God) now, because otherwise it will be too late.

(Kulsum Mustafa attended the organization’s national Symposium in Almora  on ‘Role of Media in promoting and protecting the Socio-Environmental Causes of Uttarakhand’. Her report is from ground zero.)