I was born in the middle of dense forests in the Western Ghats, a chain of mountains that runs along the western coast of India. The lives of my community here are woven between the valleys, forests and mountains. The Western Ghats protect our people from floods and other natural calamities that affect coastal areas. I love the greenery and liveliness of Western Ghats. They are very special to me.
But over the past few years, I’ve seen climate change threaten everything I love. The Western Ghats and the futures of the people who live there are now at stake due to flooding, drought, deforestation and the building of dams and nuclear power plants.
When I was 5, the rain usually started in June. But when I was 10, the rain started coming too late, causing a water crisis. In 2019, we had too much rain and floods. And now, when I am 15, the rain is too early. It is not normal to have our rainfall reducing or increasing so suddenly. Climate change is increasing the average temperatures, which in turn affects water distribution and creates extreme droughts and floods. In 2019, my friend’s village was stuck in a flood for a month. Many of them lost their houses. She says that the water was almost up to her knees and all the roads were blocked. I still remember the photo she showed me: a coconut farm that was fully destroyed. Even in our village, the roads were blocked. We had no electricity, no phone signal and we were afraid to come out of the house.
These changes in rainfall — which my grandparents say they’ve never witnessed in their 70 years — affect every aspect of our lives. Heavy rains cause us not only to stay inside for weeks, but also cause our bridges to break down and landslides to occur throughout the country. We’ve been lucky, our farms and villages have been safe — but in many other villages people lost their homes, farms and even their lives. Farmers are also losing their crops due to the extremes of weather. The coffee growers lost their crop due to unexpected rain in January this year. Many farmers lost their lands and don’t know what they can do now.
Our region has also experienced environmental degradation in other ways. Some companies and people are cutting the forests while the number of monoculture plantations like acacia and eucalyptus plantations are rising. Deforestation is causing people to suffer. Tribes have lost their homelands. Wild animals like leopards, peacocks, elephants and wild gaurs have lost their habitats, which causes them to come to our villages for safety and to eat our crops. We cannot blame them. They don’t have enough food because there’s no forest left! Last year in Kerala a pregnant elephant died standing in a river. After the investigation, they found out that it ate firecrackers. Similar cases are happening every day but no one is noticing.
"Deforestation is causing people to suffer. Tribes have lost their homelands. Wild animals like leopards, peacocks, elephants and wild gaurs have lost their habitats, which causes them to come to our villages for safety and to eat our crops. We cannot blame them. They don’t have enough food because there’s no forest left!" — Vanya Sayimone
Even though the Western Ghats are a UNESCO world heritage center, I see new companies and our government building new dams and nuclear power plant projects in our region, further threatening our forests and rivers. The Western Ghats are known for our beautiful rivers. In my district alone we have five rivers. But the beauty of our rivers is now lost. For example, the Kali (kaa-lee) river is a mother source for very rich biodiversity and lush green forests; it now has six different dams and a nuclear power plant and a paper mill attached to it.
But the culture here in the Western Ghats prioritizes our forests and saving them. Forests and small groves that we believe to have gods are called Devara Kaadu, which means sacred forest in Kannada. The people who live there respect these wonders and celebrate them as nature spirits. In my community, we respect our environment as we consider it as our God. In many villages we have tiger sculptures which people pray to to protect their cattle. And in a community called Kunubi, which is in the Kali River valley, they have preserved more than 100 varieties of tuber crops.
Because our forests are ingrained in our culture, our people are committed to protecting them. They are fighting in the courts to save our home, stopping river linking projects and protecting our forests. Many conservationists are striking against destructive projects. More awareness-raising programs are happening. Youth here are educating themselves about how climate change has affected the Western Ghats. People are writing educational materials for students about the problems in Western Ghats and organizing nature camps and workshops for them. Many conservationists are trying their best to save our homes. Although, compared to other places, there aren’t a lot of youth voices, I hope more of my peers will speak out before it is too late. We still have the chance to preserve our land and our homes.
I want to see my Western Ghats as normal as they were before. I want the rivers and water sources to move freely without any objections. I want my forests to thrive again. I want the lungs of our people to be able to breathe again. Change is happening now. I am determined to make it a positive change.
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