How an Indian engineer’s man-made forests are helping to fight climate change

In the coastal region of Odisha state in eastern India, a green-fingered engineer is on a mission to grow trees to combat pollution and flooding which many say is increasing due of climate change.

Over the past two decades, 46-year-old Amresh Samanth has planted tens of thousands of trees spread over 40 hectares of land around a cluster of towns and villages in Jagatsinghpur district, part of the Mahanadi River Delta. and one of the regions most affected by the floods. in the country.

The electrical engineer did not marry so he could devote his time to the cause, devoting his salary to man-made forests.

Mr Samanth’s selfless efforts earned him the nickname Brukhya Manab – or Tree Man – in the state.

“This is not a mission but a revolution,” said Mr. Samanth The National.

“Planting trees is part of my life. I interact with people in remote villages and towns and educate them about cyclones and other calamities and encourage them to plant trees.

A 2021 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that due to climate change, coastal areas around the world will experience sea level rise, leading to coastal erosion and landslides. more frequent and more severe flooding in low-lying areas.

In India, the east and west coasts are facing the full brunt of climate change, with an increase in cyclones and storms over the past decade.

The coastal districts of Odisha stretch about 480 kilometers along the coast of the Bay of Bengal – the largest bay in the world and home to tropical cyclones – and are prone to extreme weather events such as cyclones, storms and floods.

According to a Weather Underground list, eight of the world’s 10 worst tropical cyclones originated over the Bay of Bengal.

Over the past 20 years, the state, which has a population of 47 million, has recorded 10 cyclones, including super cyclones, which have killed tens of thousands and displaced millions living along the coastline.

Natural disasters tripled in the state between 1970 and 2019, according to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a policy research institution in New Delhi.

Odisha was devastated by a powerful cyclone in 1999, in which 10,000 people died.

Four people were killed and more than two million were displaced after Cyclone Yaas hit the state in May last year.

The state was then hit hard by Cyclone Jawad, the first winter cyclone in 100 years, in December. Nearly 55,000 people had to be moved from coastal areas to safe havens.

The “alternative hazards” of floods and droughts

Experts and environmentalists say the state is vulnerable to natural calamities due to rapid industrialization causing deforestation, soil erosion in coastal areas and pollution.

“Odisha is a highly cyclone-prone state. It is changing from a forestry and agricultural economy to one based on mining and industry, which amounts to a large-scale removal of natural forests,” said Sundara Narayana Patro, environmentalist and president of the ‘Orissa Environmental Society. The National.

“Floods and droughts are alternative risks and despite large-scale deforestation and mining activities, watershed management is not getting the attention it deserves…there is rapid soil erosion in the rivers, so even if there is little rain, there are floods,” Patro said.

In Jagatsinghpur, floods are frequent due to rainfall combined with high tides from the Bay of Bengal, located just 10 kilometers to the east, destroying crops and livelihoods of a large number of villagers, mainly tribal communities. .

Mr Samanth says he started a revolution in the state to tackle soil erosion.

He first embarked on a reforestation campaign to fight against pollution, but since the increase in the number of cyclones, he changed his mission.

He planted trees near highways and ponds, on unused open land, school premises and government offices.

“We started planting trees to fight the pollution caused by industrialization, but after the super cyclone we changed our mission and started mass planting. Since 2010, there have been six cyclones… the forests in the village have been destroyed each time. Trees have been uprooted,” Mr. Samanth said.

“We all know that trees help control soil erosion, so we started planting trees and creating rural and urban mini-forests.”

Each winter, the Tree Man, which has a network of 100 volunteers, mostly villagers who work in the fields or as fishermen, sets out to find premises in school or public properties.

In the spring, they managed to identify the land to plant young trees for their next mini-forest.

Amresh Samanth has a network of 100 volunteers who are mostly villagers or fishermen.  Photo: Amresh Samanth

They plant locally grown trees, including teak and mango, which have deeper roots and can help “control soil erosion”, he said.

Urban forests are secured with a cement wall and barbed wire so that no cattle can destroy them.

There are also dedicated 24-hour guardians who visit the forests to water young trees and look after trees until they are five years old.

“We are planting 1,000 trees, including fruit trees, in one go. We are planting online. We are looking for unused land. Previously, we didn’t need permission, but now we get written permission from the landowners, let’s say if it’s a school or government land,” he said.

Experts say that while urgent large-scale government efforts and policies are needed to alleviate the climate crisis, grassroots initiatives such as Mr Samanth’s can certainly help tackle the crisis.

“Unless there is community participation in creating and protecting forests, no government program to mitigate climate change will succeed. These grassroots initiatives need to be integrated to address the crisis,” Patro said.

“While priority attention should be given to natural forests, man-made forests should also be promoted because although they lack the capacity to sustain the ecosystem, they play a vital role in combating flooding and soil erosion to some extent.”

Updated: June 10, 2022, 6:00 p.m.

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Teresa H. Sadler