Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Virtual Geography Convention 2013: Geo-Literacy Outreach Award Update

Welcome to the kick off of the Virtual Geography Convention 2013!  If you wish to submit to the virtual geography convention please contact catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com.

We start off the virtual convention with a follow-up from our winners of the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards.  The winners and the board have encountered that geography does matter.  Our Indian winners have gone through international money transfer issues, corruption, fear of certain powerful people, incompetent and malicious locals, and massive deaths in the region due to mining.  This is a sanitized update for their own protection.

Meghalaya, the Scotland of the East, the Abode of the Clouds &
home to the wettest regions on earth,

Nohkalikai vízesés / waterfall, Meghalaya, India
From Flickr

today beleaguered with issues of Tourism overkill, unscientific unregulated Mining, and

scarcity of potable water, with hazard potential of land degradation and landslides ….

From OneWorld South Asia
From Northeast India Today
In all my years of volunteering and activism, I have not been thus challenged as I have been, with this campaign. Nor have I been so compelled before to tread on egg-shells because of the various political nuances surrounding the issue. The Geoliteracy campaign has indeed been a lesson for us in ethical issues surrounding activism and awareness initiatives, compelling us to improvise as we moved along.

We could not pursue the crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo or other platforms because of payment receivable issues in our country. However, we have very successfully implemented the same vide viral methods.

Having kick-started the Geoliteracy programme about the local community in Meghalaya serving parochial interests in rathole coal mining, we stumbled upon another fallout. The hilly region that is abundantly blessed with water reserves, has begun witnessing an anomalous situation where potable water has become scarce. In a region known for heavy rainfall all year round; with Cherrapunji and Mawsynram vying to hog top place as the wettest regions of the world, this is indeed a serious situation. More so, as this was a direct consequence of rampant road development and unregulated mining of both coal and uranium in a eco-sensitive zone. The clear waters of this beautiful region are today largely muddy from the continuous stone cutting to broaden roads and reddened by the acid runoffs from the mines, making it undrinkable, with reports of fishes dying in some stretches.

Viral campaign about the plight of those young lads working the rathole coal mines was primarily intended to draw attention to the dated and dangerous pit mining methods in use, as much as to draw the attention of locals to the possibilities of land degradation and its drastic fallouts. We hoped the local authorities would also take cognizance and make responsible legislation.

However, events took a different turn. In July, an incident of 15 young coal miners being trapped to death drew wide media glare. This may have jogged the conscience of families sending their lads to the rathole mines, yet failed to deter the tribal landholders from giving up their leases to the large mining corporations, or coming up with other sustainable measures.

Rather, poor young boys were brought in illegally to work the rathole mines. Today mining of coal and uranium continues, with the Megalaya Government’s Mining & Minerals Policy, 2012, cementing its approval. Worse, the contamination and far-reaching consequences of uranium mining, or land degradation hazards in the wet hilly region is largely undocumented.

We do feel the region has potential of water conflicts with discontent rising over lack of clean water, and no visible or meaningful efforts at cleansing operations or mining runoff regulations coming into force. Sharing of waters amongst tribal bodies, Shillong town governance and the Umiam reservoir has also become a contentious issue. So we have abstained from any campaign on this front, to prevent any situation from escalating, or adding fuel to the fires already burning within. Rather moving on to another facet of Geoliteracy, we have now begun concentrating on working with local groups for sustainable and progressive measures. We have identified a local NGO who could take initiative for on situ purification of water, completely as a community participatory venture. We have also approached a firm using non-chemicals for water treatment, for sponsoring a pilot project in the village. For the same, we would welcome any grants, sponsorships or funding from the readers.

At the same time, we have taken the movement to a further stage by collaborating with a Shillong based institute working with Tribes, for various sustainable and Geoliteracy initiatives.

Please contact the blog if you wish to donate!

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