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Vol. 16 No. 2 - April 2010

Eco-development as a Tool for the Control of Climate Change Hazards
of Kuttanad Wetlands of Kerala

By P. K. K. Nair, P. K. Shaji and T. Alexander*

The wetland ecosystem all over the world is fundamentally characterized by water stress as a focus of environmental impacts on biodiversity and human habitats. In Kerala scenario, with 44 rivers and distinctive physio-geographical features, the wetland system offers an opportunity to carry out intensive research and to address sustainable development issues, in which a model area identified is the Kuttanad wetlands. The location is characterized by a coast line with the Arabian Sea in the west, a stretch of backwaters in the east, associated by extensive rice fields and a net work of canals connected to major rivers draining into the area. In fact, the backwaters itself form a reservoir of pollutants sourced in the sewage from cities and towns, and organic sediments from the rivers.

The phenomenon of climate change is related to the increasing level of CO2 in the air as a bye product of various gas emissions, like SO2, NOX and even Methane from rice fields, apart from CO2 emission from fuel wood. The area is also marked by natural background radiation from the thorium rich coastline, and spilled over the entire wetland system, the impact of which on the green house effect is yet to be properly assessed and quantified. Further, the Kuttanad area is below sea level and therefore vulnerable to sea water intrusion due to rising level of the sea which is perceived to occur as a result of climate change. Any increase in carbon load of the air will eventually lead to an increase in atmospheric temperature (may be about 10C more in the next 50 years or even less) if the hazard is not adequately controlled.

A documentation of the flora in the Kuttanad wetlands in Alappuzha district covering an area of 1414 sq. kms. has indicated the paucity of vegetational elements, with just 338 Species, of which the tree wealth is very poor being restricted to 89 species. The vegetation and its composition, particularly the tree wealth, could be very crucial for arresting the impacts of climate change. The leaf system and its spread can effectively control the photosynthetic activity in which CO2 is captured and O2 is released. It is therefore imperative that the vegetational composition of Kuttanad wetlands need to be fortified through green belt development with appropriate plant species, particularly the trees, in conformity with the existing ecological pattern, with the addition of new elements of benefit to livelihood, socio-economic gains, conservation and ecorestoration. In such a process it will be important to generate new knowledge on epidermal features especially the stomatal index and its efficiency in the process of gas exchange, associated with photosynthesis.

A thematic ecodevelopment of coastal belt and associated wetlands could have multidirectional impacts in controlling marine related hazards like the tsunami at the same time as the improvement of human health resulting from higher oxygen output. As a beginning to the demonstration of the benefits of green belting, studies have been carried out in the tsunami affected panchayats of Arattupuzha and wetland panchayat of Kainakari, in which the cashew plant has been identified as one of the tree elements and Calophyllum inophyllum has been notified as an example of ecorestoration of the lost biodiversity. Together with the above, naturally occurring coconut palm, which withstood the tsunami, will be retained with the addition of dwarf coconut, in the programme of evolving an agroforestry system. Thus, ecodevelopment is an inevitable option for the control of wetland stress with benefits in ecology, economy and environment.

* Environmental Resources Research Centre, P. B. No: 1230, Peroorkada P. O., Thiruvananthapuram, India,

E-mail: [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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