Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier

Calling attention


A UNESCO dossier examines the problems faced by the original tribal inhabitants of the Andaman islands.

SINCE the 1780s, a variety of players have vied for space in the Andaman archipelago. Today, apart from the three wings of the country's armed forces, others including rice farmers, timber merchants and academics are trying to push out its original inhabitants from their traditional habitats.

For the first time in the past 150 years, a comprehensive dossier on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands' history and geography, complete with maps and bibliography, has come out. The 212-page document, released in the World Biodiversity Year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), gives a detailed report on the archipelago's original inhabitants – such as the Jarawas, the Onges, and the Sentinelese; their resource bases; the tribes' strengths and weaknesses; the conflicts from 1885 onwards; the impact of economic activity; and the State's developmental agendas.

The Jarawa Tribal Reserve (JTR) and the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) form the crux of the dossier. It also mentions an expert panel recommendation to ensure “self-determination by the Jarawas”. The rationale for it is: “This has to be the ultimate aim of any process that will involve the Jarawas – to help them negotiate with a rapidly changing, predatory world that exists around them. Unless this is done, the future can only be considered grim.” A recommendation whose implementation no interested party on the islands is likely to facilitate.

The editors of the document, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya, do not claim that their compilation provides complete information on the unique ecosystem of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This long-due assessment of all the forces at work in the Andamans, however, makes a valiant attempt to crystallise one question: What is it that needs to be done in the Andamans?

“The answer/s, of course, are neither evident nor simple, if they exist at all. People dealing with the situation, the administrators, the researchers and the activists, are all grappling with a situation that is highly complex.” The emphasis is on grappling – there is no conclusive decision yet on a consensus policy framework on how best to save the fragile environment.

The dossier was prepared under the aegis of the UNESCO Action on Cultural and Biological Diversity and its “Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) Programme”. In his foreword, Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO's Natural Sciences sector, points out that the LINKS Programme contributes to a growing field of research and action on interlinkages between biological and cultural diversities. “Perhaps nowhere are these connections better highlighted than in the Jarawa Tribal Reserve in the Andaman islands of India,” he notes.

“The Jarawa Reserve is an area of exceptional biodiversity, boasting a wealth of flora and fauna. This has been maintained largely due to the presence of the Jarawa, the indigenous inhabitants of this tract of land.… The Jarawa have decided to end their voluntary isolation and to mix more freely with outsiders. The previously hostile borders of the Jarawa Reserve have become open to intrusion. This has enormous implications for both the biodiversity of the reserve and the Jarawa themselves,” he warns.

“It thus becomes crucially important to understand the complex interactions between the Jarawa, their environment, and the increasingly intrusive cultures surrounding the reserve. Only through an interdisciplinary approach can such linkages be understood, and perhaps to some extent managed,” Erdelen concludes.

In her foreword, Kapila Vatsyayan, Chairperson, India International Centre-Asia Project, points out that the territory identifed by outsiders as “the Jarawa Reserve” may actually be “an entity not necessarily recognised by the Jarawa themselves”.

She adds: “The threat to indigenous peoples and their cultures is also a threat of extinction of the priceless resource of the diversity of oral languages.… “It remains to be seen whether the voice of communities like the Jarawa can be heard at international fora, or indeed national fora.”

Four aspects

The information in the dossier is grouped into four. The first defines within an anthropo-social structure who the Jarawas are.

The second is a peek into a varied set of notifications, including one which levies just a one-rupee fee for a pass for a “settler selected for settlement in A & N under the Accelerated Development Programme of the Ministry of Labour & Rehabilitation”. The document helps the reader formulate a perspective, howsoever fragile, that the web woven in the name of protecting the tribes of the Andamans is as wrongly attributed as the phrase, and as deceitful.

One petition in the Calcutta High Court, filed in 1999 by Port Blair lawyer Shyamali Ganguli, said that the Jarawas were subject to gross negligence by the Andaman administration, the Department of Tribal Welfare and the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), a quasi-governmental organisation whose composition is non-tribal, political and bureaucratic.

The High Court guidelines said in 2004 that the AAJVS was “the primary agency responsible in matters related to communities like the Jarawa” and that this “welfare” agency had “to bear direct responsibility for the deteriorating situation of these communities today, and a radical overhaul is therefore needed”.

The court also said: “The working of the body [AAJVS] should be governed by principles of accountability and transparency. New ideas and national and international expertise should be accessed for [the] making of policy decisions and their implementation.”

The medical services for the tribes are woefully inadequate – they do not include treatment for hepatitis infections or facilities for institutional births. [One report, not contained in this dossier, talks of how out of 150 Bo tribe children born at home, not one lived beyond the age of two. Now the tribe is extinct.] There are no papers on current national programmes such as the National Rural Health Mission, or on right to information (RTI) disclosures by the AAJVS or the forest department, or on measures relating to participatory governance. Another minus for the dossier is that its data are somewhat dated.

In the third section, on recommendations, a noteworthy inclusion is the one by the former Director of the Anthropological Survey of India R.K. Bhattacharya to close the Andaman Trunk Road, made in the “Report of the Expert Committee on the Jarawas of Andaman Islands” submitted to the Calcutta High Court in 2003.

The fourth section is a set of maps and detailed information on the archipelago's forests, butterflies and traffic. Manish Chandi of the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) and Harry Andrews, former director of the Madras Crocodile Bank, point out in a joint paper: “Protected areas such as sanctuaries, national parks or tribal reserves are the only remaining examples of what was once found (of fauna and flora) in these islands in the past.” Six of the 19 Important Bird Areas are in the reserves.

“The Sentinelese and Jarawas are the only communities who continue to use their knowledge networks for livelihood security in the modern context…. It is assumed that this knowledge is the basis for nature conservation in the Jarawa Reserve…. This may not necessarily fall in line with our nascent and structured views of why they conserve natural resources, if indeed, they do at all,” the two conservationists say.

Vishvajit Pandya's culture study says:

“It is (the) concept of ‘placeless place' with which I am concerned. Reading early accounts and listening to people involved in both friendly and hostile contacts is akin to sitting in a barber's chair.…

“The administration wants to impose notions of exclusion on a people who have a tendency to be inclusive.”

The dossier recommends the creation of an “independent body” charged with the responsibility of research, documentation, reporting, policy formulation and implementation on all matters relating to the indigenous peoples and the tribal reserves on the Andaman islands. It also advocates sensitising settler communities living in the vicinity of the JTR. Whether the expert opinions, most of them results of substantial research, will lead to an enlightened 21st century policy for governing the Andamans is yet to be seen

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Experts Rue Untold Damage to Marine, Coastal Ecosystems

Experts Rue Untold Damage to Marine, Coastal Ecosystems
Analysis by Pankaj Sekhsaria

NEW DELHI, June 12, 2010 (IPS) - In mid-April this year, MV Malavika, a cargo ship of the Essar Shipping Corporation, a major sea logistics firm in India, leaked an estimated eight tonnes of furnace oil after being struck by a barge near the Gopalpur port on the eastern Indian coast of Orissa.

Within a few hours, a huge slick had washed up along the Olive Ridley Turtle nesting beach at Rushikulya, a major turtle nesting site in Orissa, where over 150,000 turtles had nested just a few weeks earlier. The fear of the impact this would have on the turtle nests was confirmed about a month later.

In spite of claims by authorities that the beach had been cleaned up, local researchers say that more than half the eggs laid could have been damaged by the oil spill.

"This is the first time we’ve experienced a slick of this kind, and the damage has been immense," says Rabindranath Sahu, the secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, of the oil spill in Orissa. Only about three kilometres of the beach had been cleaned up whereas the turtle nesting had occurred along a five km stretch, he tells IPS.

The livelihoods of nearly 10 fishing villages in the area had been completely destroyed as the fish catch had collapsed while salt production units in the area had to shut operations for about 20 days, he adds.

This environmental disaster in Orissa may pale in comparison to the damage that has been inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, where thousands of barrels of oil have been leaking out every day from British Petroleum’s oil rig for nearly two months now, following the rig’s explosion.

A rich coastline has been laid waste, hundreds of birds have been found dripping with the oily residue, sea turtle mortality has been significant and a fishing and shrimp industry has been crippled, if not completely destroyed, according to media reports.

"This is where the precautionary principle comes in," says Greenpeace India’s Ocean Campaigns manager Sanjiv Gopal. "Offshore installations should be kept out of critical marine ecosystems and from the migratory, breeding and spawning habitats of commercial fish and other species," he says.

"From the experience in Orissa, we also feel that no new ports or port expansion projects should be allowed within 25 km of ecologically sensitive areas."

The economic value of coastal and marine environments is enough to justify the need for their sustainable use and management.

According to the ‘Global Diversity Outlook 3’ (GDO3), a report released in May by the Convention on Biological Diversity, coral reefs, for instance, are estimated to provide services worth 18 million U.S. dollars per square km a year for natural hazard management, up to 100 million dollars for tourism, more than five million dollars for genetic material and bioprospecting, and more than 300,000 dollars for fisheries.

"The world’s fisheries," states the report, "employ approximately 200 million people, provide about 16 percent of the protein consumed worldwide and have a value estimated at US$82 billion." Yet, about 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited or have been fully exploited.

Coral reefs cover a miniscule portion of the world’s continental shelf and yet, as GDO3 notes, up to a billion people depend on them for food and nearly 300 million for basic livelihood support.

Research reveals that coral reefs are coming under increasing stress from a range of damaging human activities: overfishing, pollution from land based sources, reef dynamiting for fishing, coral bleaching due to temperature rises and ocean acidification on account of global warming.

Scientists at the Phuket Marine Biological Center in Thailand noted in early May that coral bleaching in this South-east Asian country was the worst in Thai waters in the last two decades. A similar situation has been confirmed in the adjoining Andaman and Nicobar islands in India.

A Jun. 4 report released by Reuters news agency listed 20 of the most significant oil spills around the globe. "The spill (Gulf of Mexico) stands out," it said, "for its proximity to U.S. shores and the publicity it has generated by comparison with other large, ongoing leaks in more remote parts of the world."

Dr Jack Frazier, a noted turtle biologist and member of the International Sea Turtle Society, agrees: "This sort of problem has been occurring regularly in other parts of the world, with hardly a murmur on the daily news." He asks: "How many people, for instance, have even voiced concern about the decade- long disaster in Nigeria?"

The Ibeno beach, for example, in the coastal state of Akwa Ibom in Nigeria has seen a series of serious oil spills since December 2009. Its coastline has been devastated by oil leaks from offshore operations, and fishing activities have been seriously impacted.

Says Oluseun Onigbide, director of Media and Advocacy at Green Acts, an environmental group based in Nigeria: "The Ibeno oil spill is a clear example of how the pursuit of economic growth destroys the work of nature, impacts livelihoods and compromises people’s health."

"The recent developments are indicative of the fact that we have failed to regulate sea and land based activities that can damage the fragile marine ecosystem," says Chandrika Sharma, secretary of the India-based International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, a non-governmental organisation advocating the rights small-scale artisanal fisherfolk.