A Time for Nature and the Environment

World Environment Day (5th June) reminds us that we have only one planet and that we should do our best to preserve and maintain our natural beauty and heritage

World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 every year and is the biggest awareness campaign launched by the United Nations since the early 1970s.

It is that time of the year when civil societies, environmentalists, school students and global leaders take a moment to reflect and contemplate upon the impact of human activity on Mother Earth. With the climate crisis having made and still making, irreversible changes to our lives as we know it, World Environment Day is also a time to think about unique, workable solutions that can help in resolving issues such as deforestation, plastic pollution etc.

The theme for the World Environment Day 2021 is ‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.’, and Pakistan will be the global host this year. The country marks the completion of planting one billion trees as part of its ambitious 10-billion tree campaign.

The day has gained significance this year as it marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a mission to halt, prevent and reverse the degradation of ecosystems around the planet.

Goa celebrates World Environment Day

Several efforts have been made by the Government of Goa to restore the State’s ecosystem, to make up for the damages that have inadvertently crept in due to various commercial activities. Furthering this resolve, the Chief Minister has announced that the State Government will create hundred water bodies and plant trees, among other things.

Moreover, the State Government has been focusing on the development of wildlife sanctuaries as they help in maintaining a balance in the ecosystem of Goa. The Forest Department of the State has trained 250 youths, who will now work as forest guides and aid in the task of restoration.

Amidst the pandemic, there have been significant developments that should concern environment lovers.

The battle to save Mollem in Goa has been a hard fought one. The Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem Nature Park came under attack with the announcement of three linear projects – a double track railway line, an additional power grid and widening of roadways – that would have destroyed the pristine bio-diversity of the Western Ghats.

A remarkable grassroots campaign saw students, teachers, lawyers, ecologists, wildlife scientists, artists, poets, musicians, journalists and just ordinary citizens and lovers of nature coming together on the streets and online, in a remarkably co-ordinated fashion to proclaim their dissent. These voices were found in poems, songs, dance, memes, films, investigative articles and petitions. More than two dozen scientists came together to do a “peer reviewed” cumulative Environment Impact Assessment of the three projects.

All this culminated in a petition before the Central Empowered Committee, the fact-finding body appointed by the Supreme Court. The Committee recommended changes in two projects with the requirement of Environmental Clearance and the scrapping of the third. The battle is not yet over, but what started on World Environment Day, last year, has certainly resulted in a model to emulate for green activists the world over.

Fr. Bolmax Pereira

Fr. Bolmax Pereira, Assitant professor of Botany, St. Joseph Vaz College, Cortalim, says, “World Environment Day being held in Pakistan this year has a central theme ‘Generation Restoration or Ecosystem Restoration’. The attempt is to restore the degraded ecosystem by decreasing destructive pressures, reducing the increasing levels of pollution and conserve the still intact ecosystems of the world. The event will also mark the launch of UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.”

Further, he says that Goa needs to do a lot in this regard. “We still have intact eco-systems in our Western Ghats, new floral species still are being discovered, yet the present government dispensation seems to be blinded by crony capitalists by pushing destructive projects through our Mollem forests. Illegal hill cutting at various places in Goa is being overlooked (or should I say promoted?!) by the administration under the dark cover of the pandemic. We must ensure environmental justice, strive hard to achieve environmental balance by adopting principles of ‘Net Zero’, promote community participated coastal restoration by way of introducing erosion defiant species along the coast. Listen to the genuine voices and consult indigenous people and scientists for Restoration of the degraded land, water and air.”

Urbanisation and the Environment

Goa, like any other Indian State, is suffering from unsustainable urbanisation, climate change, biodiversity loss, and the degradation of ecosystem services, coupled with problems of water scarcity, flooding and pollution.

Goa’s capital Panaji, too, is no stranger to such problems. Panaji is an intricate network of waterways, low lying areas, and traditionally reclaimed agricultural lands. Multiple ecologically vulnerable areas present an opportunity for the implementation of nature-based solutions. A major problem in the city is seawater ingress in inland aquifers along the tidal river courses, which, coupled with groundwater exploitation, is increasing water scarcity. The salt water intrusion has also affected the quality of groundwater in the city, along the Mandovi River and Zuari River in parts of the Tiswadi taluka.

The ecologically rich mangrove ecosystems along the rivers Mandovi and Zuari, and along the St. Inez and Ourem creeks face the risk of being destroyed for reclamation for commercial and residential buildings. The reduction of the mangrove cover is leading to increased soil erosion, habitat destruction, and increasing the risk of storm surges. The erosion of the Khazan lands, which are ‘community managed, integrated agro-fishery ecosystems’, can lead to flooding.

The rampant construction on the reclaimed marshlands and agricultural lands is increasing the threat of water logging.

Some Indian coastal cities are already engaging in steps to integrate bio-diversity and ecosystem services into spatial planning, land use management, local economic development and infrastructure design.

As locals and organisations come together to combat climate change and help preserve ecosystems, architecture proves to be a standout player in the game.

Though an architect is not the person who will actually be constructing the structure, they are the ones who provide the blueprint, and as such are the people who can influence the end product.

An architect is an artist whose canvas is real-estate (empty outdoor space), which consists of naturally occurring things such as vegetation, land formations, terrain, soils, etc.

As an expert in designing a concrete structure in a particular area, how would an architect visualise and design the structure in order to retain and preserve (as much as possible) the sanctity of these naturally occurring elements, with as little impact on the environment as possible?

Rajiv D’Silva, architect, says, “While it is not possible in most cases to build without impacting at all the natural environment in which the building is being built, it is possible to use design strategies to minimise this impact. One of the simple ways is to try as much possible to preserve the major natural features such as trees, rock formations and slopes by designing the building around them. Thus if there is a large tree right in the middle of the site, rather than chop it down, one can design the house such that the tree fits into an internal courtyard within the house. Similarly, many people think that the first thing to do with a property is to level it completely, especially if it is undulating or sloping. This is not at all necessary; the building can be designed to follow the natural contours of the land. Buildings designed in the way are more beautiful too!”

This is where the concept of ‘green architecture’ comes up. Green architecture is a method of minimizing the negative effects built structures have on their surrounding environment. It’s a philosophy that draws on the environment as inspiration to deliver low-impact, adaptable, and healthy spaces. Green buildings are designed, constructed, and operated with a focus on conserving energy, sourcing eco-friendly/recycled materials, and preserving the bio-diversity of the area. Goa is yet to try out green architecture in order to make a difference.

Beach Please!!!

The latest controversy to raise its ugly head much to the disconcertation of environmentalists and locals is the construction of retaining walls at public beaches.

The construction of a ‘retaining wall’ along North Goa’s Vainguinim beach by the promoters of an adjoining five star resort has raised the hackles of the civil society, which has called the wall illegal, even as the hospitality group, has maintained that the wall is being built in its own property and with permissions from the state government’s Water Resources Department.

Prajal Sakhardande

Historian Prajal Sakhardande states, “The concrete wall on the beautiful Vaiguinim beach flanking Cidade de Goa has sent shock waves across the whole of Goa. People are angry and there is a huge public outcry against the hotel that has constructed the wall violating and flouting all CRZ regulations, GCZMA rules etc. The hoteliers are claiming that it is private property. How can a beach be someone’s private property? It is Goa’s natural heritage and should remain in the public domain. This act of rich elite hoteliers, anti-heritage and anti-environment people should be condemned.”

Sakhardande goes on to add that this will set a precedent for other hotels to follow suit. “In Morjim, a concrete wall has been built following this Vaiguinim beach wall. Soon, it will be a trend everywhere and other hotels in the garb of sand erosion will throw sand in the eyes of the people and privatise these smaller beaches thus making them part of their hotel property.” Sakhardande appeals to the people of Goa, “At the GCZMP draft public hearing on 8th July I appeal to all Goans to fight this violation of our beautiful natural heritage coastline, our beaches, our rivers, our ponds, our springs, our waterfalls, our wetlands. Stop destroying our natural historical heritage.” The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is an effort to encourage countries to ‘reimagine, recreate and restore’ our relationship with nature.

For India and Goa, to get a headstart in this journey and be an active part of the UN’s restoration effort, meticulous attention to nature in cities, preserving biodiversity and heritage should be a concern for all authorities and policymakers.

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