Training communities towards the health and safety of our rivers
The forests of Vazhachal have a perennial source of water, the Chalakudy River that provides feeding grounds for elephants that migrate from Parambikulam to Malayatoor and Chalakudy Forest Division. The Vazhachal Forest Division (VFD) serves as a habitat for over 200 species of wildlife including 104 species of fish in the Chalakudy River. It is these very forests and their life giving nature along with the surrounding water bodies that sustain people like Shibu and Ratheesh of the Kadar community.
With an area of around 400 sq. km located in Thrissur and Ernakulam districts of Kerala, the VFD has nine tribal settlements of Kadars and Malayans. The Kadars still depend on forest resources for their sustenance. The tribals of Vazhachal received their Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights title in 2014. The CFR title has given them rights to traditional resource use and also the responsibility to manage, regenerate and conserve the forest and water bodies.
To enable the youth in the area in becoming active stakeholders in the conservation and management of their CFR area in general and the river in particular, WWF-India, in collaboration with the Vazhachal CFR Coordination Sangham, is training the communities in River Health Assessment (RHA).
Fishermen like Shibudep end upon water bodies and are hence being trained to monitor components necessary to ensure the health of rivers like the Chalakudy.
The first training provided Shibu and others with an overall view of the drainage of the CFR area, with its many river and dams and, the forest resources. Chemical tests were carried out within 10 water bodies to determine their health.
With an encouraging response in the first session and feedback from fishermen, WWF-India held another training with participants from different tribal settlements. The RHA trainings also saw the participation of frontline staff from the Forest Department.
“The overall health of the forest depends on the river and streams. The need for a healthy river goes beyond the fish it provides us. Hence we are being trained to monitor components necessary to ensure the health of our rivers”, says Shibu.
A unique site is the Lakshmi pond region with presence of tiger pugmarks.The presence of tigers serves as an important incentive for the government to protect the forests of Vazhachal and its water bodies, serving a huge population of humans and wildlife on an everyday basis.
Downstream of the well-known Athirappilly falls, the Chalakudy River provides drinking water and irrigation for 10 panchayats with a population of some 3 lakh people before it drains into the Periyar River.
For D. Boominathan, Landscape Coordinator, Western Ghats Landscape, WWF-India, “The tiger population serves the ecosystem in ways we cannot imagine. While helping to maintain the ecological balance, the tiger also draws the attention of the government and civil society to take up conservation activities to protect the forests and habitat. Even the local communities have understood the importance of such steps and they too contribute towards conservation of this natural habitat”.
Water quality of 12 sampling locations was assessed during 4th-7th December 2017. Important parameters like Dissolved Oxygen (DO), pH levels, turbidity and total hardness and dissolved solids revealed various results. The most important result was the DO value found in Kundoormedu Thodu, Lakshmi pond, Anakkayam bridge and Pokalappara indicating good health of the river at these locations that can support aquatic life.
For Shibu, “the River Health Assessment training fulfilled its purpose of knowing the health status of water resources and I was able to take the necessary steps to protect and manage the same. It is crucial to conserve and manage the forest resources to sustain the livelihood needs of the community and preserve the ecological functions performed by the forests.”
Apart from the RHA trainings, WWF- India has been training the community in wildlife monitoring, ecological monitoring and sustainable NTFP harvesting. WWF has also provided water testing kits and equipment like binoculars, range finders and GPS to the Sangham to carry out their activities.