Ecosystem restoration is a practice of restoration, recreation and reimagining sustainable futures. Every natural habitat is attuned to regenerate on its own, without external intervention. In South East Asian countries, biodiversity parks and animal habitat spaces are part and parcel of regenerating the tourism economy. If we in the Northeast of India need to reimagine a sustainable future, we cannot be boasting of our nature extractive industries of tea, oil, gas and coal. Our collective regenerative ecologies have to be geared towards restoring tampered ecosystems from the eastern tip of Arunachal Pradesh to the western most end of Sikkim. We have collective ecosystems, collective food ecologies, common natural habitats for multiple species, irrespective of borders and fences of heads, hearts and habitats. The hills and valleys of the entire Northeastern region are intrinsically connected through the ecosystems of hill slopes and riverbeds. In this context of fragile ecology, home to biodiverse species, ecosystem regeneration cannot happen only through economic growth-oriented development planning.
How is the ecosystem getting paid and regenerated by land mines, coal mines, oil well drills, mega dams, uranium mining, sand, cement, stone, wood trade deals, which disrobes the ecosystem off its basic survival needs? Re-imagination of sustainability needs a thorough consideration from all ecologically conscious policymakers and sustainable development stakeholders. The whole of the Northeast region is a rain-fed region. Have we been able to regenerate our water sources and water bodies enough so that we can withstand massive contamination and scarcity of potable drinking water? Water is the elixir of life. Are we not struggling with arsenic, flouride, iron and salinity in many places across the Northeast region?
During my short stay of few years in Meghalaya and Nagaland, I experienced extreme shortage of water within both rural and urban contexts. I used to negotiate between a bath and a wash of clothes to manage within the limitations of a bucket of water. When I returned to my hometown in Assam, I faced similar struggle of scarcity of supply water. Our water purifier has given up multiple times in the last two years due to heavily contaminated water. Clean, potable water is a basic constitutional provision, universal human right and a sustainable development goal, as well. Human, animal and habitat health depends on such quality of water. We cannot afford to get groundwater source at more than 100 ft depth, so we depend on weekly 2 to 3 hours of water supply which reaches us in long intervals at times. I tried exploring possibilities of roof water harvesting structures as well, but the cost of building floor-based storage tanks is so high that I faced extreme misogyny and ridicule from my technocratic family. So the only way I can restrict my water use is by rationing my water consumption practices and reducing any kind of luxurious water use. But the pandemic times have exposed us to multiple vulnerabilities of mandatory hand wash and consistent surface cleaning, which consumes huge amount of water. If we happen to step out to the local pharmacy or ration shop, then also our water usage increases. Hence, ecosystem regeneration cannot be based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle. It has to be based on equitable and judicious use and distribution of resources. Ecosystem regeneration needs to be based on eco-centricism rather than egocentricism when it comes to the Northeast region. We cannot make common mistakes of the concrete west and centre of the world. Restoration of our existing indigenous ecosystems and coexisting with recreated ecologies, reducing consumptions and recycling our diversities might sail us through these terribly uncertain times.
Dr Samhita Barooah,
Education, Research and Writing