November 2015 was the wettest month in a century for Chennai, a city of 4.3 million people. And on 1 December, 2015, the heaviest rainfall in several decades forced authorities to release a massive 30,000 cusecs from the Chembarambakkam reservoir into the Adyar river over two days. This caused the river to flood its banks and submerge neighbourhoods on both sides. It did not help that the Adyar is not very deep or wide, and its banks have been heavily encroached upon over the years.
According to the city's municipality, there are more than 150,000 illegal structures in the city and over 300 existing tanks, canals and lakes have disappeared over the years. Several reports after the floods claimed that the disaster had little to do with nature, and was largely man-made.
More than 150,000 illegal structures in Chennai and over 300 existing tanks, canals and lakes have disappeared over the years.
One man saw this crisis coming almost 10 years ago. Arun Krishnamurthy laid the foundation of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) in 2007 by volunteering to clean a pond in his neighbourhood in Chennai.
The organisation and its efforts grew from that one pond in Chennai to include over 39 lakes and 48 ponds in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Pondicherry and Gujarat in the last 10 years.
"The rapid urbanisation and degradation of freshwater bodies in Chennai and Hyderabad that I grew up on has been the primary reason to start EFI," Krishnamurthy told The Better India. "We have everything from lake view roads and apartments to stadiums on our lakes, everything but freshwater. The pain of being denied a freshwater body is the reason why several of us believe in this cause and have been volunteering over the years. Also, the fact that a lake or pond is being perceived only in human context is worrying."
"We have everything from lake view roads and apartments to stadiums on our lakes, everything but freshwater."
EFI provides a platform for concerned citizens to volunteer to solve environmental issues facing our country. EFI members hold the conviction that the effectiveness and impact of a project is not measured by money, but by the level of commitment that the volunteers have towards the cause.
The Better India organisation is working with EFI to help restore lakes and ponds in drought hit Nagapattinam and positively impact the lives of 20,000 villagers. Watch to know more:
How EFI works and how you can help:
1. Conservation: Focusing on ecological conservation of freshwater bodies
EFI organizes and executes effective lake clean-up programs in India. Under this program, EFI adopts a lake or any water body on a voluntary basis. The water body or beach with its periphery are cleaned, strengthened and restored to its original capacity & beauty. The cleaning process involves a massive removal of physical garbage from the premises.
This is followed by scientific lab testing of the water samples repeatedly to check for contaminants and pollutant levels. After the scientific study, the lake bed is de-silted and the silt is deposited on the bunds and a major bund strengthening program follows.
The levelled bund is then planted with native saplings, which offer extra support. A small wetland is created towards one corner of the lake to filter out the incoming waste. These wetlands act as the substrate filters, plants like water hyacinth are grown under supervision in this part of the lake alone to ensure filtration.
2. Herbs restoration:
Planting native species around lakes, gardens and residential colonies helps attract many birds and other airborne creatures. These native species are important for strengthening the regional biodiversity, regulating the water table and helping many organisms survive. Every school, apartment complex or residential society can plant herbs or native Indian saplings. This will help in restoring the lost biodiversity. By planting these saplings and herbs one can open the way for several insects, animals, birds and other native creatures to thrive.
By planting these saplings and herbs one can open the way for several insects, animals, birds and other native creatures to thrive.
You can support EFI with time and effort for their research that is aimed at conserving lakes and ponds, and focuses on climate change. In order to inspire young school and college students to get involved in conservation, EFI offers a fellowship called the Science Badge. Through this fellowship, interested students are encouraged to be a part of EFI's team of conservationists.
"Lake clean-ups are so satisfying, we all come together and have so much fun cleaning the dirt of our lakes," 14-year-old Drithi told The Better India. "But once the activity is over and I look at the lake, I feel like crying as there is still more trash left. People keep dumping waste into lakes and rivers, I do not understand how they can do it."
"But once the activity is over and I look at the lake, I feel like crying as there is still more trash left," 14-year-old Drithi said. "People keep dumping waste into lakes and rivers, I do not understand how they can do it."
EFI hosts volunteers of all ages from across the globe. Interested volunteers can sign up for EFI projects and stay with them for a period of one week to 30 days. Volunteers are provided accommodation and food at EFI's Volunteer Home in Chennai at nominal prices.
"Environment conservation is no choice or compulsion, it is common sense," Krishnamurthy explained. "We share this planet with all other life-forms and it is not just about us. We are paying a price with heat, flooding, health issues and still do not relate it to our daily mistakes. This is an invitation to all those who wish to be change-makers to participate in on-ground, real time environment conservation work. Not a photo opportunity but an effort towards securing our future."
The Better India is working with the EFI to help restore lakes and ponds in drought-hit Nagapattinam and impact the lives of 20,000 villagers. To know more, click here