Preparing For the Worst

Ecosystems Are Turning Fragile And Making the Environment Hazardous: A Case of Bundelkhand

1. Introduction

Ecosystem has been the smallest unit of the biosphere that has all the characteristics to sustain life. It is one of the complex systems running in the environment that plays an important role in sustaining the abiotic component on one hand and the biotic component and their waste on the other hand. It consists of the biological community that occurs in some locale as its biotic component, and the physical and chemical factors that make up its non-living or abiotic environment.

The ecosystem’s interconnected and interdependent system brings about a competition and co-action between the two predefined components. There at the same time the external forces of the ecosystem either pamper or hamper the growth of these components and often tend to bring about a change in the ecosystem by altering its two component. This overall functioning of the ecosystem is then regulated by the inbuilt self regulating mechanism’ or the homeostasis mechanism of the ecosystem.

Homeostasis is the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes.

This homeostasis ability helps in to regulate any of the change brought in the natural ecosystem or the environmental system by the external forces of the ecosystem. This change is counterbalanced by the positive or the negative responses of the system; when the system counteract the deviations in the system then the condition is known as negative response it leads the mechanism back to its ideal  situation. But the positive feedback of the ecosystem adds to the stress condition and tends to take the system away from the optimal condition. The two modes of responses of the homeostasis mechanism delimit the condition of equilibrium and the condition of disequilibrium.  Many ecosystems are especially vulnerable to change, the cause of which could include their location, extent, biodiversity and linkages with other ecosystems.

The external forces as a whole or partially can bring about a change in any of the biotic component. This change would also be visible on the other biotic and often the abiotic components too, all because of the fact that all these component of the ecosystem are so intimately co-related to each other. The change brought in by the physical environmental processes on the earth’s surface, occur in such a way that the equilibrium of the ecosystem is maintained through the negative feedback mechanism, only if man does not interfere in the natural state of physical environmental processes. Now, man has emerged as a very important geomorphic agent and is capable of changing the earth’s surface at a much faster rate than many of the natural processes. Various changes in the natural ecosystem and its functioning have highlighted the active role played by the conscious mind of man in changing the physical environment and thus generating a new geological epoch. This pertinent penetration of human in the ecosystem has bought about a disequilibrium condition giving rise to a state where the ecosystem cannot support or sustain the components that depend upon them, resulting into a chaotic condition of natural catastrophes. This wide chain of change can lead to the formation of a FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM.

What is fragile ecosystem?  A fragile ecosystem is an ecosystem or community which lacks resilience or which is so heavily impacted by an ‘un-natural’ (human?) event that it changes in unexpected and undesirable ways leading into the conditions that are often termed as natural catastrophe. However, if disturbing event occurs which exceeds the tolerance of the community, a major change may result. Such an example would be the combination of two extreme events; perhaps drought and wildfire, which can shift a rainforest community to dense, simple, low diversity kunai grassland.  Any definitions of fragility must be relative to the normal disturbance regime which that community would be expected to encounter. Disturbance regimes cover a spectrum which includes small frequent events and everything up to extreme uncommon events. These can be considered statistically as in the concept of a 1:100 flood, drought or bushfire and it is obvious that a community which suffers such an event will change. Therefore all communities and ecosystems are vulnerable or fragile to some extent. Recognizing the limits is the key to understanding and management.

Fragility and resilience are often linked to bio-diversity and the concepts of ecosystem maturity but these relationships are not nearly as clear as many texts would indicate. For example, rainforests are species-rich ecosystems which are commonly seen as being very complex, very old (mature) and very fragile and thus it is assumed that even the removal of a few species might significantly change them.

2. Nature of Problem The fragile ecosystem, as can be claimed is the price paid by the humans for incessant development done at the cost of natural destruction. Human impact upon the ecosystem, of which he is a part, been increasing, as in the case of the great Himalayas some parts of which also feature among the fragile ecosystem. For centuries, this ecosystem has remained delicately balanced, and has been responsible for the tremendous biodiversity of the Himalayas. Only in recent years has the ecosystem been disturbed in various parts due to processes both man-made and natural.

Man has also been responsible to a large extent for some of the environmental problems faced by the mountains. Striving for industrialization, modernization and the so-called higher standard of living, man has disturbed the natural ecosystems of many parts of the world. The Himalayas have been no exception. Over the centuries, pilgrims and explorers have visited the mountains. However, in the past their numbers were few and the Himalayan ecosystem, fragile as it is, was able to cope with the effects of human exploration in the areas. But today, the story is different. In the last few decades, an intricate network of roads has been built into the mountains, which have made some of the most remote areas more easily accessible. This has translated into a tremendous increase in the numbers of people who visit the mountains every year. The Himalayas are now being exploited, to the hilt in, many areas, to provide materials for the growing number of forest-based industries. Thus, it is not surprising that environmental problems have emerged in the Himalayan region also. Frequent occurrence of landslide is one indicator that speaks for the case that states the weak resilience power of the Himalayan ecosystem against the change bought in its local ecosystem. Thereby the resultant affect of the disadvantageous advances made by man for his development against the resilience power of the environment has backfired and now the science and technology man uses for his development are rendering  to be useless against the might of the nature.

The fragile ecosystem now has become matter of great concern for the present scientists and researchers and the condition is still deteriorating with man’s ever-increasing needs. The consequences that have come up regarding the fragile ecosystem have added up to the woes of man and have further aggravated the problem. The causes that can be sublimed as having a resultant impact upon the resilience power of the ecosystem are-

  • Population Growth. The rapid rate of ever-increasing world population, and the increasing gap between the developed and developing regions, increasing proportion of the urban- rural population etc. are the basic and root cause of all sorts of environmental degradation and ecological imbalance because increase in population means more exploitation of  natural resources which means inauguration of new environmental problems.

The ever-increasing population places greater demands on the finite resources of the earth. The rate of exploitation of natural resources increases more rapidly than the rate of population growth. This has caused and is causing exhaustion of certain valuable non-renewable resources. In the 62 years since independence, the population of India has tripled to 1.2 billion. In the next 20 years, Demographic characteristics of the population of India speaks to the fact that it is the second most populous country in the world after China. India supports 16.87 percent of the world’s population on its meager 2.4 percent world surface area of 135.79 million square kms. At the time of independence country’s population was 342 million. The country’s population size had grown from 361 million in 1951 to around 846 million in 1991 and 1027 million in 2001. The population of India almost trippled during the period of 1951-2001.

Overpopulation another problem so intimately related with the ever growing human population also results in economic poverty because all the resources are utilized to meet the bare necessity of the people. This results in unbalanced exploitation of natural resources that has, further changed large areas of natural landscape into vast wastelands and thus has caused several severe environmental problems such as accelerated rate of soil erosion, floods, droughts etc. Thus it is obvious that overpopulation is the root cause of environmental degradation and ecological imbalance. It is high time for the science and technology to be so developed that we could be able to feed the ever growing population and use the available resources scientifically and effectively.

  • Intensive Industrialization. During the past several hundred years, humans have begun to industrialize rapidly. In many cases, they have added capabilities which have been used to manipulate natural things for human benefit, often at the expense of other things specifically the environment. On the other hand, technological advancement has required that humans come to a better understanding of the world, bringing with it a greater potential to do good, to manipulate things for the benefit of the planet.

Even though industrialization has opened new dimensions for the human development

but the development has been at the cost of an adverse impact upon the environment; At present the industrial Growth is at 4.6% during April-July 2009 though the impact of industrialization at first upon the environment was not immediately noticeable, because in many cases the ill-impact of industrialization is low;  but with the passing of time industrialization at many places has changed the overall character of natural system and the chain effects have some time become suicidal for the human society. Majority of the impact of industrialization are related to pollution and environmental degradation.

The release of toxic elements into the environment through the application of chemical fertilizers etc has affected the food chain and food web of the ecosystem. Similarly the release of toxic gases in the atmosphere has changed the composition of air; the burning of hydrocarbon fuels has increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Rapid rate of industrialization has also aggravated several of the problems like deforestation over utilization and pollution of the water resources. Thus industrialization as a whole has played an important role in bringing a disadvantageous change in the environment and at the same time the presence of industries in fragile zones of the ecosystem has also altered the unstable physical and biological entities of the already imbalanced ecosystem.

  • Unplanned Urbanization. As the rate of industrialization is increasing the problem of urbanization is also increasing with it too. Urbanization means phenomenal increase in the concentration of human population in limited space. The phenomenal increase in the population during the last fifty years has led to rapid industrialization and high rate of urbanization which have created tremendous pressure on natural resources like land, air and water.

The urban population has increased three and half times, from 62.4 million in 1951 to 217.6 million in 1991 and it again increased to 288 million in 2001. The percentage of urban population increased from 17.28 percent in 1951 to 23.33 percent in 1981, 25.71 percent in 1991 and which further increased to 28 percent in 2001. The decadal growth rates of the population are irregular, as it increased from 13.31 percent in 1951 to 24.8 percent in 1971 and afterwards it marginally declined to 24.7 percent in 1981, 23.9 percent in 1991 and 21.34 percent in 2001. The urban growth lead to an increase in the pollution levels and exposes population to serious environmental hazard.

The rapidly expanding cities face the twin challenges of exploding population and scarce resource and suffer from a number of environmental problems including poor urban infrastructure (inadequate housing, polluted water, growing problems of solid waste collection and disposal), congestion, overcrowding, uncontrolled and conflicting land use, unabated pollution and poor maintenance as well as over-exploitation of already depleting resources; cause increasing urbanization increases pressure on the resources as it has been in the case of over use of groundwater for domestic and industrial use. Excessive withdrawal of groundwater results in the formation of large cavities below the ground surface. The development of such cavities causes the collapse of ground surface and thus inflicts great damage to human health and wealth. The cases of land subsidence due to withdrawal of groundwater have occurred all over the world e.g. Houston (Texas, U.S.A. subsidence of land by 0.3m to 1.0m). Development of urban centers and its related problem have either further changed the fragile zones (e.g. hilly areas) or are gradually changing the more stable ecosystems to fragile ecosystem.

  • Intensive Agriculture: Green Revolution the synonym to the development in agriculture depended on the application of scientific techniques, advanced technologies, uses of chemical Fertilizers, pesticides, expansion of irrigation activities etc. The adoption of these techniques in farming gave a few years of bumper harvest in Punjab and the surrounding areas, but later on crop failures were reported in many areas despite the liberal use of NPK. This resulted mainly from micronutrient deficiencies caused by the rapid and continuous removal of micronutrients by the ‘HYVs’ and the replenishment of the macro nutrients only. Plants need these micronutrients more than NPK and the high yielding verities extract micronutrients from the soil at a very rapid rate creating deficiencies of zinc, iron, copper, manganese etc. The impact is either gradual decrease in the production of the food grain or the food production does not increases in comparison to the amount of chemical fertilizers that are put in the field. As is evident from the following data-

Further more micro nutrient imbalance decreased the production in Punjab, the food bowl of India, as zinc deficiency (a micro nutrient) in Punjab had reduced yields of rice, wheat and maize by up to 3.9 tonnes, 1.98 tonnes and 3.8 tonnes per hectare respectively.

Land/Soil degradation the direct impact of agricultural development on the environment arise from farming activities, which contribute to soil erosion, land salination and loss of nutrients. The spread of green revolution has been accompanied by over exploitation of land and water resources and use of fertilizers and pesticides and fertilizers have increased many folds. Leaching from extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers is an important source of contamination of water bodies. Intensive agriculture and irrigation contribute to land degradation particularly salination, alkalization and water logging. It is evident that most of the land in the country is degrading, thus affecting the productive resource base of the economy. In India out of the total geographical area of 328.7 million hectares, 175 million hectares are considered to be land-degraded area.

The change brought in by the intensive agriculture gave way to a natural system that was different from the previous condition that was not able to support the dependent component, specifically human being.

  • Unscientific Method of Resource Use. The ways in which the resources are being utilized often dictate the future availability of these resources. The resource utilization pattern in most of the developing and often in the developed countries too is not up to mark. This unscientific resource utilization has actuated several ecological problems also.

As in the Himalayas the ecologically fragile and economically underdeveloped region of India, with geo-environmental constraints imposes severe limitations on the level of resource productivity. Consequently, subsistence agriculture constitutes the main source of livelihood in the region. The rapid growth of population has brought about extensive land-use changes in the region, mainly through the extension of cultivation and large-scale deforestation. This irrational land transformation process has not only disrupted the ecological balance of the Himalayan watersheds through reduced groundwater recharge, increased run-off and soil erosion, but has also adversely affected the ecology and economy of the adjoining Indo-Gangetic plains by recurrent floods and decreased irrigation potential.

  • Intensive Exploitation of Available Natural Resources. Over-exploitation of natural resources in some cases lead to exhaustion, particularly by excessive forestry, fishing and hunting. This over-exploitation occurs due to overpopulation in some areas, and at the same time ever-increasing demand for these resources and the development of international trade are the other major factors.

The over exploitation of the natural resources have triggered various problems correlated to it. Often exploitation of some resources require extraction (as in the case of mining) that creates further pressure on the environment in the form of pollution as for a tiny ring, miners dig up 30 tonnes of rock and sprinkle it with diluted cyanide to extract the yellow metal. This extra pressure on land leaves it tenuous as the extracted part of the natural ecosystem is not replenished and the act of extraction goes on and gradually the ecosystem is unable to sustain the demand and often gives up, by giving a positive feedback to the change, resulting in the decline of the abiotic structure and death of biotic structure; altogether the eco as a system declines to work in coordination.

The resultant impact of the problems are-

  • Lowering of water table. The growing population, rapid industrialization and intensive irrigation have been the major factor that have resulted in the decrease of the water table, as the exploitation rate of the water is higher then the rate by which is being replenished either by the natural method or man made methods.

Hydrologists stressed on the worsening situation in Lucknow city where 410 million litres of groundwater was being extracted daily through huge number of tubewells and handpumps. Perhaps, groundwater is one of the most neglected and over-exploited resource. As a matter of fact, groundwater constitutes about 50 per cent of drinking water supplies and 33 per cent of domestic supplies which makes groundwater harvesting imperative. Moreover, groundwater pollution has become a serious problem in UP.

The going down of the water table has triggered several problems related to it, as occurrence of warm land, land subsidence or crack on the land surface has increased in many areas in northern India: the area of perennial rivers. The decrease in moisture content has left the areas affected to severe soil erosion and has also adversely effected the food production.

  • Decline in the Availability of Resources.There is a growing imbalance between the demands of human population and the resources that support human life. Fresh water, land, finite resources like fossil energy are depleting very fast because of increased pressure to meet the growing demand of an expanding population.
    According to a study most replacement of eroded agricultural land is now coming from marginal and forest land according to the National Forest Policy of 1988 per capita availability of forests in India is much lower than the world average. In the year 1997, as compared to 1993, the total forest cover has decreased by 6710 Sq. Kms.

We are gradually loosing the much needed resources to the need of development as many of the resources are non- renewable in nature. Decline in the availability of the resources have further stressed the condition as the demand for the resources have often seen going up resulting into conflict over the declining natural resources.

  • Pollution. Pollution has been the end product of many of the human activities that have created a lot of changes in the ecosystem. The causes that have been the factors of pollution is also the motive behind the development of the fragile ecosystem and pollution the end result has been playing a decisive role in further degrading the already frail ecosystem.
  • High Price Rise. With the passing of time and the dwindling available resources the demand of the available resource are rising at a very fast rate. Natural resource as is known is limited in supply and the reinforcement of these limited resources take a very long time, still with the passing of time and the dawn of the new era, pollution and over exploitation of the limited resources have further limited the availability of these resources for human being. The resultant impact of this has been that the price attached to these natural resources have further increased as the demand of these resources have not subsided as man is depended upon many of these resource for his survival and has not been able to cut down the demand of many available natural resources. The demand and supply of natural resources and the over exploitation of these have acquired a vicious circle.
  • Poverty. Depleting natural resources and increasing demand of the same resource have created a big scarcity of the resources. The price rise of the most essential resources had laid more stress on the economic condition of the people. As the region often affected by change is unable to support the people depending upon it. As desertification the resultant impact of land degradation has left many farmers landless and poverty stricken because the infertility of the soil is unable to produce good or any amount of crop.
  • Frequent Occurrence of Natural and Man Made Disasters. The change in the ecosystem brought in by the external forces often tend to instigate the rate of disasters; as the environment is not able to resist the change cause of its weak resilience power; and often the change starts a chain of activities as the external forces role in modifying the environment often does not stops that lead to further decline of the resilience power and the occurrence of the disaster become more regular.

3. Study Area Bundelkhand the study area of my paper occupies almost 70,000 square kilometers of the central plains in India, the Bundelkhand stretches over twelve districts of northern Madhya Pradesh (MP) and five districts of southern Uttar Pradesh. Bounded to the north by the Yamuna River and to the south by the hills of the Vindhyan Plateau, the region presents a unique set of geologic and geographic characteristics which have had a profound effect on human development in the region as well as on the country as a whole.

The impact of human activity on the region has until now been unsustainable.  Bundelkhand has been seen as a region suffering from acute ecological degradation. As logging and mining activities over the past several centuries have denuded the landscape and facilitated the erosion of the fragile soils. Additional population and livestock pressures, which are already high, have only served to aggravate the problem. Expanding ravine lands, especially in the northern area, are already threatening local farmland and can have serious consequences on the socio-economic condition of the natives.

Access to abundant water resources has always been one of the major     environmental concerns in the region. Irregular rainfall had often led to either drought or flood conditions with consequent effects on the natural and human environment. Increasing dependence on groundwater resources has led to a lowering of the groundwater table in places where withdrawals have exceeded recharge. The decline in groundwater levels has further undermined water security in the region and accelerated desertification and erosion. It has been noticed that out of 822 development blocks in 71 districts of the state, the ground water level in over 450 blocks were found to be in the category of the seriously affected, the scenario giving sleepless nights to the state authorities as told by the SGWD authorities. In a joint survey by Central Ground Water Department and the SGWD recently showed that the situation of ground water in 22 development blocks of 13 districts was found to be `over-exploited’ and `critical’, whereas, the water level in 75 development blocks of 29 districts was ‘semi-critical’.

In a worse scenario, this year, ground water level in 38 blocks was found to be ‘over-exploited’ and ‘critical’ while in 88 blocks, the level is in the category of ‘semi-critical’ The over exploitation of the water resources at present has erupted another major problem of crack formation on the fragile land of Bundelkhand. It was first reported in the dailies in 2007 on 11 August that 5 km away from the village Jigni of the district Rath ‘the earth had cracked to the length of 350m it was about 2.5 feet to 8 feet broad and 35 to 60 feet deep.

The incident was again noticed in 2008 in the month of June when 18 regions of Bundlekahand reported of land cracks that is 13 in Hamirpur and 5 in Jalaun district. The cracks and land subsidence were    noticed after the region received unprecedented first shower after four years of drought at the end of June and beginning of July this was basically due to the fact as quoted by P N Razdan, Senior Deputy Director General, GSI, northern region. “Since Bundelkhand received deficient rainfall for the last four to five years, excessive exploitation of groundwater over this period has created a tension in the aquifer. Now with the sudden recharge of water due to incessant rains, fissures have opened up.” The formation of crack has further laid stress upon the drought affected region of Bundelkhand and a proof of it turning into a fragile zone of India.

3. Major Findings The analysis of the report published in the dailies and news being highlighted in the media spoke of the fact that undue pressure or the practicing of the unsustainable methods of development had an unenviable effect on human being and a dilapidating impact upon the ecosystem. The weak homeostatic mechanism of the fragile ecosystem has given way to various problems.

  • The impact of fragile zone on the population structure of the affected area had been mainly due to the out-migration of the people specifically young male members of the family in search of jobs to support their families this has lead to a change in the population structure and sex ratio of the region; as the population basically consists of old, female and children.
  • As the areas affected where mainly the rural areas where farming is the main source of income the formation of fragile zone affected the production and in return the per-capita income of the people.
  • Limitation of available resources had been mainly due to over-exploitation of the resources, in Bundelkhand it has been mainly the extraction of ground water without proper replenishment of the same which led to over exploitation of the same for the irrigation purpose further limiting the available resource. Overuse, encroachment and improper management of the water resources have had an impounding impact upon the available resources.
  • Excessive extraction of water led to the formation of cracks as told by Ms.Vibhuti Rai a professor with the Lucknow University’s geology department. “Owing to the loss of groundwater, the soil at the affected sites has lost its cohesive property that tends to keep it intact. With the loss of this property, the soil is not able to bind with the water molecules. This resulted in the cracks.” But later on after a heavy spell of rainfall the condition did improve but the improvement came with problems of land crack and land subsidence this time due to the opening of the fissures.
  • The fertility of the soil was also affected due to removal of the top most layer of the soil by the wind erosion. This was basically due to the fact that the soil had lost its moisture content. This also had a impact on the turbidity of the water bodies due to the deposition of the soil in the water bodies

Conclusion Many policies have been framed and many policies are being framed to combat the problem of growth of fragile zone but the policies framing has been faulty; one such policy of the government of massive plantation drive in Bundelkhand region with estimated expenditure of over Rs. 450 crore by the forest department is all set to go down the drain for the simple reason that the entire exercise is being undertaken in an unplanned and unscientific manner; as before the plantation of saplings no proper soil analysis has been undertaken, and secondly the sapling selected do not suit the rock terrain of Bundelkhand as the suitable species were that of eucalyptus, babul, jatropah etc but the species identified were khera, mango, bakain. Thereby there is an urgent need to think and plan emphatically and scientifically for the proper management of the affected area. Now is the time to protect the region on a verge of loosing its resilience power, before it becomes too late for a land to sustain the need of human being. On an average the environmental management should include (i) adoption of methods that can curtail and regulate the changes that have been taking place in the environment and (ii) judicious and gainful utilization of natural resources for socio-economic development [i.e. sustainable development].

Methods that can be adopted for a gainful development can be:

–          Practicing rain harvesting method for the replenishment of the ground water.

–          Adopt soil and moisture conservation measures terracing, bunding etc.

–          Review of Progress of implementation of ongoing schemes and programs connected with conservation and development of land resources and soils.

–          Promoting local empowerment

–          Enhance people’s participation in fragile ecosystem development programs by creating mass awareness. This can be effectively achieved by strategically evolving a layout for future education based on experiences of best practices to safeguard the fragile ecosystems from the different parts of the world.

–          Advocating for social and financial accountability at all levels as per the ‘Polluter pays policy’ the individual or organization hampering the environment be made accountable for repaying the losses done to man and nature.

Sustainable Method It mainly and basically emphasizes meeting the needs of the present without compromising with the future. To attain this goal appropriate technology should be adopted to attain the goal of sustainable development that would further help in combating the problem.

This technological strand of environmental movements strives for a working synthesis of the different mediums of resource exploitation i.e. agriculture, industry etc. a change in the technological approach in these sectors can have a direct and lasting impact in sustaining the degrading environment.

As in  the solution of every problem so in the solution of the problem of fragile ecosystem, the government and the general mass have to come together in framing and implementing the precise management methods. Together we have done and together we can.


1) Singh Savindra, Environmental Geography (Utttar Pradesh: Allahabad, 2003) 330-344.

2) Prasad, G., and Nautiyal, R., Environmental Geography (Utttar Pradesh:Allahabad,  2006) 80-         81

3) NAVF (1990) Sustainable Development, Science and Policy, Conference report, Bergen 8-12, May Oslo, Norwegian Research Council for Science and Humanities.

4) Singh, J.: Environmental Planning and Eco- development.

5) Mathews, W.H. 1971: Man’s Impact on the Climate, Cambridge Mass: The Mit. Press.

7) A Compiled notes of Centre for the Development of Environment and Resources.

8) A newspaper report: Amar Ujala dated 9th July,2008.

9) A newspaper report: Amar Ujala dated 16th July,2008

10) A newspaper report: Dainik Jagran dated 11th August, 2007.

Source by Milita

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