THE debate on whether climate change causes calamities in Orissa rages on. But nobody denies that environmental degradation in the state has let loose a chain of problems.
Massive deforestation in west Orissa is not only destroying the livelihood of local people but also silting up riverbeds causing floods in the downstream coas-tal Orissa. On the other hand, barren hills lead to heavy run off of rainwater resulting in flash floods in the local area and more floods in the low coastal lands of Orissa.
The devastation of the fragile coastal ecology with its crucial protective layers of mangrove forest gone, increases vul-nerability. Satellite pictures of the 1999 cyclone show that mangrove forest helped reduce the impact of the intense super cyclone. Ersama in the Jagatsingh-pur district of coastal Orissa, without mangroves, reported 8,000 deaths dur-ing the cyclone as tidal waves ingressed 10 km into the land. But the coastal dis-trict of Kendrapara, which had some mangrove left, suffered less damage comparatively (see table: Vanishing green).
In 1993, Artabandhu Mishra was invited by the collector of Kalahandi to speak on environmental degradation. And when Mishra said, "Kalahandi will one day be flooded", people scoffed at his statement because Kalahandi is a chronic drought prone upland. But the floods in 2001 proved Mishra right. It was the first district in the state to suffer floods this year and heavy rainfall caused flash floods in a very short time. The hills stripped of their forest cover could not retain the heavy downpour.
Deforestation is not limited to Kalahandi. Analysis shows that forest cover in the state has come down to 4.72 millon ha from about 6.8 million ha in 1960-61. Out of this existing cover, only 2.73 million ha of forests have a density higher than 40 per cent.
Orissa has been described as a 'growing' state because of silt deposition and sediments at the deltas by the river systems like Mahanadi and Brahmani. The massive silt from deforested and eroded lands settle down on riverbeds and also get deposited on the sea mouths.
According to state's agriculturedepartment statistics, about 4.33 mil-lion ha of the state's 7.2 million ha of agricultural lands are under severe ero-sion and losing fertility. The upland of 2.9 million ha, belonging mostly to tri-bal and very poor farmers, is degraded and barren. With little or no effort to harvest rain, the state loses around 80 per cent of its rainwater as run off from these barren lands thus making water a very scarce commodity.
This results in drought even when there is a slight deficient rainfall. According to K L Pujari in the last few decades, due to erratic rainfall, Orissa has faced droughts more frequently than ever before.
The 1999 cyclone devastated forests
||Date of satellite pictures
||Dense forest (hectare)
||Open forest (hectare)
||Total forest (hectare)
||Mangrove forest (hectare)
||Total forest loss
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