KOCHI: Amid alarms of drought, a revolution is progressively taking shape along the length and breadth of Kerala to conserve its major rivers and wetlands. Efforts are on to revive and replenish water bodies at the grass root level. Individuals, NGOs and voluntary organisations are down to work, with government backing the efforts.
The Chalakkudy river is the subject of such an initiative. And coming to the fore are children and youth. For spirit and passion instilled early in life are more likely to pay dividends in the long term.
Championing the cause of the Chalakkudy river conservation is an NGO - River Research Centre. Founded by the late environmentalist Latha Anantha, their template is based on the involvement of youngsters in the conservation efforts. For spreading awareness and enhancing the understanding of the dynamics of nature is central to any sustained conservation movement. Thus took birth the Schools for River project where students from different schools help conserve precious water, along with flora and fauna, along the course of the river.
“The chapters on ‘rivers’ in our textbooks and study material in schools are sadly incomplete and one dimensional," said environmentalist and coordinator of the Schools for River programme, Zabna A B.
"Everything stops with the idea of building dams across rivers and using them as a source of energy generation.”
In the light of this flaw, she has authored a series of three booklets titled ‘Puzhakal Ozhukum Vazhikal’ taking a comprehensive look at the three phases of a river - upstream, middle and downstream. About two-and-a-half years of intensive research went into the making of the colourfully illustrated booklets. Telling the story of a river, and peppered with info tiles, it is an effort to bring to students the importance of rivers and the effect it has on the environment, society and even economy.
The Schools for River visits schools along the course of the Chalakkudy river, and its tributaries, and conducts workshops and awareness classes to sensitise children on the importance of free-flowing rivers and the need to conserve them. They incorporate guided river walks and field trips to ecologically sensitive areas with scientists, researchers and environmentalists, and also engage students in riparian planting.
“Many times during the workshops, we noticed, when creating drawings on rivers, children paint a picture of a polluted river. Factory effluents and waste are shown flowing into it, with dead fish floating around. In short, in their imagination, this is the only face of a river. This realisation emphasised the need to take them on field trips, especially upstream, to make them aware of the river system,” Zabna said.
Summer vacations are the time when the Schools for River intensifies their activities and conducts camps and interactive classes. Students are introduced to the flora and fauna along the river and are shown the negative effects a dam has on a river. “It is not only serious learning that happens during the camps, students involve in group activities and create art and craft based on their learning. They also have fun in the rivers. All these widen their perspective about a river and the need for its conservation,” said the environmentalist.
However, she says the biggest barrier to involving students is the difficulty to get the schools themselves involved. The educators are not convinced in most instances, while some feel time is a constraint and keep away from being a part of the conservation activities.
“Sometimes even parents are not enthusiastic to let their wards out on field trips. Some schools undertake the conservation activities solely for grade points,” she said. This cold outlook has to change before we are left high and dry she feels.
Despite all these roadblocks she is optimistic the persistent efforts will bear fruit and river and ecology conservation will be taken seriously and her booklets will eventually be incorporated into the school curriculum.