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Searing heat takes Shillongites by surprise

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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG, April 26: Meghalaya is facing a dire situation as temperatures soar above normal, signaling alarming climate shifts. The recent surge in temperatures has not only led to discomfort but has also triggered forest fires, exacerbating the already pressing issue of climate change.
A 60-year-old vegetable seller, who has been selling vegetables for years in Rilbong, expressed her concern over the rising heat in Shillong.
As she continued to bargain with her customers under an umbrella, she added, “I am not sure if this is Shillong or Guwahati, I have never known Shillong to be this hot.”
Clueless about the phenomena of climate change, she did add, “If we keep cutting trees, and keep building tall buildings everywhere, can we expect any better?”
Similarly, owing to the sudden spurt in temperatures, forest fires occurred recently in the city, destroying large amounts of forest covers.
The current heat wave gripping the state is a stark reminder of the pressing need for adaptation and mitigation measures.
Schools across the state were also given a heatwave warning, wherein the state government had directed educational institutes across states to not organise sports or any outdoor activities.
Maximum temperatures have soared above normal levels in various districts, with some areas experiencing departures as high as 5.7°C. The impact is felt across the state, with both Garo Hills and Khasi-Jaintia Hills regions affected.
On April 24, the maximum temperature was in the range of 34 and 39°C in many parts of the districts in Garo Hills and Ri-Bhoi, and 24-27°C in parts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
Maximum temperature departures were above normal by 2.9-5.7°C at isolated places, as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Similarly, on April 26 (Friday), maximum temperatures were in the range of 33-37°C in many parts of Garo Hills and Ri-Bhoi, and 23-28°C in parts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Maximum temperature departures were above normal by 2.7-5.1°C at isolated places, as per the IMD.
This can be attributed to the rapid loss of forest covers in the state which paint a concerning picture.
The state has witnessed a decrease in forest cover, with Very Dense Forests, Moderately Dense Forests, and Open Forests, all affected. Alarmingly, the loss of natural forest areas has been observed.
In 2010, Meghalaya had 1.47 million hectares (Mha) of natural forest, extending over 71% of its land area. In 2023, it lost 11.8 Kha (thousands of hectares) of natural forest.
East Khasi Hills, in 2010, had 162 kha of natural forest, extending over 63% of its land area.
In 2023, it lost 620 hectares of natural forest.
According to Naba Bhattacharjee, Chairman of State Expert Appraisal Committee on Environment for Meghalaya, representing Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, urgent action is imperative from both the government and the community.
Talking about the rising forest fires, he said, “Uncontrolled forest fires are highly detrimental to the entire bio diversity of a forest. Moreover, the Riat and Raid Laban Forest including Malki, extending up to Risa/Cleve colony is the last vestige of catchment in Shillong and source of over a dozen rivulet and streams.”
“Massive afforestation is the only solution, and that being said, the trees should be looked after. Plantation drives are done everywhere, but who goes back to see if they make it or not. The plantation drives are good initiatives, but without monitoring, and geotagging of the trees, there is no point,” Bhattacharjee added.
He also added that the trees that should be planted during these drives should be indigenous species, and endemic to the region.
Bhattacharjee proposing a decentralised approach to afforestation, suggested that each village should have its own nurseries to ensure better care and monitoring of saplings. He emphasised the importance of raising awareness, particularly among rural and economically vulnerable populations who are most susceptible to the impacts of climate change and heat wave.
In light of these developments, he said, it is imperative for stakeholders to collaborate and prioritise environmental conservation and climate resilience. Failure to act swiftly could have devastating consequences for Meghalaya’s biodiversity, communities, and future generations.
Drawing lessons from successful initiatives in other regions, Bhattacharjee highlighted the need for swift action to prevent a crisis akin to those faced by Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. He underscored the importance of learning from past experiences and implementing effective strategies to mitigate climate-related challenges.
It may be mentioned that despite the state government’s introduction of a climate action budget in 2023, progress on the ground has been lacking, with no tangible action plan in place.

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