Friday, 9 June 2017

Will you cut down a tree that speak with you?

Need for a Paradigm Shift from Capacity Building to Empathy Enhancement for Successful Conservation Efforts

A lot has been said about and invested to build and enhance human capacity for successful biodiversity conservation. However, with consistently fading ground realities, it does not require high intellect to gauge utility of these investments. It leads to think, whether capacity enhancement is the right goal. 

I would prefer to replace 'capacity building' with 'empathy enhancement'. The phrase 'capacity for conservation' implies an acquired attribute. Even with the most massive effort, acquired attributes will be gained by an insignificant number of people, compared to the population whose daily activities cumulatively erodes natural wealth. It is important to realize that most of these people do not have a viable and long-term alternative in front of them. Hence investments made to educate to appreciate and alter human behavior into a sustainable trajectory will either be 'partially' successful or re-emerge as some other issue. In most cases, people will not welcome 'new-issues', but would accommodate 'older' ones, as they are used to it since childhood.

However, if efforts are made to build empathy towards something, chances are that it will get protected. Ability to communicate with, or understand signals of other organisms is the best way to instill empathy towards it. Human behavior to domesticated animals and pets are classic cases that exemplifies the above statement. For this we need to understand what plants and animals try to convey through their flowers and sound.

Will you cut down a tree that speak with you?     

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Paris Accord, POTUS & Horse Latitudes

Humanity is today facing one of its biggest threats - Climate Change.  It can be viewed as a polymorphic organism that props up in different forms at different locations. Beneath water, it manifests as bleach, at the surface, it expresses as elevated temperature, level rise, etc. On land, it is shortened winter, droughts or deluges. Climate change is neither the first, nor will be the last test for humanity. On many occasions during the course of human evolution, humanity found itself pushed to the wall. At every instance, we devised new ways to scale seemingly insurmountable walls. However, today we acknowledge climate change as a contemporary challenge and have agreed to pool wisdom, knowledge, information available at our individual and collective disposal and strive to come out with flying colours. A formal accord towards synchronized efforts to overcome the challenge was agreed to at Paris in late 2016. It was hailed across the world as, unprecedented.      
The Paris accord was a timely collective step in the right direction. Finer interpretation of supporting technical documents reveals that we have understood the challenge to a reasonable depth. Climate change is different from other challenges faced by humanity. Its dual form; of being both creeping and abrupt, necessitates us to redraw new and dynamic strategies to counter it. Prioritizing wealth (over money) was identified as the central, non-negotiable principle of the Paris accord.

As for almost all global scale efforts, the United States of America (USA) - militarily the most powerful nation on Earth – was looked upon as the leader and POTUS; the captain to steer the accord to its logical objectives. I do not view POTUS as an individual. It is one of the most powerful offices’ on the planet. Common man in any nation on this planet holds POTUS in high esteem. Hence the conventional ideal of chivalry viz. morality tied to honour, service, and respect was expected from it.

As the captain of the ship (Earth), POTUS was expected to go down with it. However, with the unilateral declaration to withdraw from the Paris accord, POTUS has behaved as a captain who has abandoned his ship at time of emergency. The only measurable consequence of this withdrawal is the steep plummet of the image of POTUS. The 21st century world is different. It has many nations with towering leaders, who are competent to steer the ship successfully forward. 

As said in the Gita; Whatever Happens, Happen For Good.

Looking back, after a couple of years, we may claim that in mid-2017, our ship crossed the Horse Latitudes!

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Autonomous State of Environment Reporting - ASTER
State of environment reporting is indispensable for scientific administration. It constitutes the base of development planning and includes analysis of temporal changes in the environment of a particular place. Environment reporting encompasses elements such as ambient air and water quality, ecosystem health and function, along with social and cultural matters. 

In India, the state of environment reporting is coordinated by the Ministry of Environment, forest and Climate Change. The national effort aggregates state-wise reports and publishes them online. This mechanism is cumbersome, slow and results in a history document. displays the state of environment report of 2007 for Kerala! The time lag (in years) for conventional state of environment reporting leads to a document that has little practicable use. 

Progression in sensor, communication and computation technologies makes available smarter options to generate real-time state of environment reports. ASTER is a prototype sensor network designed to autonomously collect geo-tagged, real-time biophysical parameters. Apart from contributing to state of environment reporting, ASTER will be invaluable for a host of sectors like agriculture, disaster management, public health, soil and water conservation, water quality monitoring, etc. The central concept of ASTER is a non-negotiable requisite of smart cities. ASTER implements the idea proposed in Kerala e Resource repository And Location-specific Advisory (KeRALA) []. 

ASTER was conceptualized and implemented jointly by Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management- Kerala and IET, College of Engineering, Trivandrum. The prototype, if scaled across one district will inevitably attract attention of the Government of India. Scaled across geography, ASTER has the potential to be the hub of research in data analytics. It is highly likely that Government of India will come forward to sustain ASTER.   

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Are We Sapiens or Stultums?

Are We Sapiens or Stultums?

It is a strange twist of fate that the southernmost tip of the Western Ghats, India, that used to receive almost 2000 mm of annual rain, split in two seasons; is now withered. The landscape (of Trivandrum - the capital city of Kerala, India) is now peppered with water kiosks from where citizens need to collect water. A hidden pointer to the prescience of people managing water resource is that the current disruption in water distribution system is the fallout of just one year of deficient rainfall. 

Today, in Trivandrum, the availability of petrol/ diesel is more assured than that of water. I am trying to draw a streak of comparison between two non-comparable resources to highlight the fundamental flaw in handling an increasingly scarce resource - water. The price of any commodity is inversely related to its scarcity. 

Multiple concerns raised over the last many years about dwindling trend of water resources apparently fell on deaf ears. Its pricing was unscientific. I do not know whether this can be listed as a 'price of democracy'? It is high time that we abandon knee-jerk reactions to adopt objective long-term planning.

The persistent inertia to discard silo approach in management and distribution of water resource (as primarily engineering issue) will only complicate the issue. The attempt of linking river systems to tide over the current crisis is a dire, knee jerk action. Although it may save the citizens from further hardships this season, will it be a permanent solution? 

We still continue to overlook ramifications of the current resource crunch on our franchise-less cohabitants and its possible future reflection on us. It throws open more questions.What are our plans if rain decides to skip the region for another year? What can be done to arrest further deterioration of surface and sub-surface hydraulics of the region? How can we change our lifestyle? 

The latter is perhaps the most challenging issue because notion of abundance of water is culturally embedded within the people of this region. One possible way is to rectify the above-said fundamental flaw. It will certainly accelerate the process of changing attitude towards water consumption. Bold decisions above petty considerations differentiates a statesman from politician

There are many things that can be done by each citizen during such testing times. Salient few are listed below:

1. AVOID using flush toilets - at least after micturition.

2. ADOPT traditional toilet soaps/ mixtures for bathing - they need less water to be washed off human body.

3. A total NO to wet washing of automobiles. 

4. Use and REUSE boiled water (avoid adding cumin or other ingredients to boil drinking water. This way, left over water can be reused the next day).

5. RECYCLE - Where ever possible collect waste water and use it to water plants. 
6. PUT AN END TO any  procedural hurdles that comes in way of repairing leaking water supply pipes.

7. BE CONSIDERATE. Place a pan of water at a convenient site in or around your house/ work place to help insects and birds quench their thirst. 

8. JOIN HANDS for massive replanting - Urban, semi-urban and rural areas need different approaches. One urban strategy could be to take help of school children to adopt identified stretches for focused action (details described elsewhere).

9. SAVE ELECTRICITY - Water pumps need electric power!

10. RECTIFY water pricing flaws -  Aadhar - PAN interlink makes it possible to adopt differential pricing of water resource.

11. PERCOLATION PITS - 1x1x1 ft percolation pits to be made mandatory on each 5 cents of land. Implement before the upcoming rains.

12. ANTICIPATE THE WORST AND PLAN FOR IT - Tomorrow we will need massive desalinization plants to meet our water demands. High incubation time for such enterprises makes it imperative to start working on it from today.

Changes in local energy balance primarily due to uncontrolled built-up area expansion has transformed the region (Trivandrum) to resemble like a huge furnace that radiates heat energy outwards. This will blow away any moisture laden clouds drifting from the oceans and reduce the probability of precipitation. The above statement foretells the fate of 2017 summer rains. 

It is not due to ignorance that we find ourselves where we are today. We have amassed money and lost wealth! It is foolish to expect to harvest wheat from fodder grass. Learning from mistakes and avoid repeating them is called wisdom. Nobody bestowed us with the title sapiens. We picked it along the course and has hence remained with us because there was no one to challenge our decision. It is better to learn from our mistakes and correct the course lest we lose the title and be forced to accept stultum.

Note:     Sapiens is the species name of man. It is a Latin word that means wise.                 Stultum is the Latin word for foolish.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Trivandrum used to be enviously viewed as perhaps the only  Indian city with 24 x 7 piped soft water supply.  This is now history. 

Within less than 12 months of deficient rains the existing water supply system is disrupted. Two consecutive years of downpour deficiency will lead to chaos. I fear to visualize the state after three rain deficient years. Likelihood of consecutive rain deficiency is high. There are early reports of El-Nino this year too!

Turning back to the ground issue, today we are traveling on the road with a broken bridge ahead!

Sustainable development receives more lip service and less action. Isolated case studies are cheered, but the social longevity of sustainable transformations are seldom bothered. I find it difficult to recollect even one instance of long-term transformation.

Despite collective human intelligence, which has taken us to the farthest edge of our planetary system; we miserably fail to find a means to alter our attitude and behavior

It is disappointing to see how we continue to remain callous. In an economy driven by market, sustainable development no longer continues to be the in-thing. It is looked down upon as non-technical. 

Whilst it is not wrong to pin our hopes on ephemeral jargon and disruptive ideas, it would only be wise for us to realize that no amount of investment can turn cities smart, Sans, basic natural endowments like clean water and fresh air. When are we going to get our priorities right? Better late than never.