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Can we live without our forests?

Major rivers originate from these forests including the Cauvery, Krishna, Mahadai, Kali, Malaprabha and Ghataprabha.

Can we live without our forests?

The world we live in today is in a state of imbalance, with an ecosystem constantly in threat. Water, forests and air are severely damaged by increasing population and the resource demands that come with it. Life as we know it has changed drastically and not entirely for the better, for much of it is irreversible. It's not easy to correct, rebuild or compensate for the environmental loss and damage.

While some areas can be rejuvenated, others are either beyond repair or will take an exceedingly long time to recover. Ecosystems are extremely complex, sensitive and intricate - every move has a ripple effect. In many cases, it is difficult even to precisely understand the nature of the damage that is suffered.

Take for instance, the forests of the Western Ghats. These are not ordinary mountainous or terrestrial forests, they are unique as they are variedly situated and comprise many endemic species of plants and animals. They offer several important ecological 'services' - oxygen, fruits, medicines, aromatics, timber and more important, have the power to mellow the effects of hurricanes, floods and other storms that would otherwise destroy our agricultural crops and wipe away top soil. These forests bring a lot of rain from the Arabian sea and distribute this precipitation over a large area of forest and surrounding lands.

Major rivers originate from these forests including the Cauvery, Krishna, Mahadai, Kali, Malaprabha and Ghataprabha, which facilitate the irrigation of millions of acres of agricultural land and enable hydropower projects that produce huge amounts of electricity.

North Karnataka has become India's largest sugar belt because of these rivers.

Thousands of farmers grow sugarcane here. Thousands of small and big industries also function because of these rivers. We have 65 major rivers in peninsular India, which irrigate millions of hectares of agricultural land, enable industry and provide employment to lakhs of people. Therefore, the importance of keeping the balance in an ecosystem must be understood from many angles. Forests are seminally important for the entire socio-cultural and economic systems of civilization.

The Western Ghat forests also are a strong source of economic dependence and survival of certain communities who live on the fringes of these forests. There are also many kinds of minor forest produce like flowers, fruit, honey and even leaves of certain trees like the Flame of the Forest, which are used as plates when sewn together. This forest produce is the main source of livelihood for the fringe communities who use and treat them as sources of livelihood.

Unfortunately, the importance of forests is only confined to wildlife but as a matter of fact their importance extends far beyond it. Forests are the backbone of the economy of a large section of the society. We need to see more deeply the humongous impact of such forests on the humanity as a whole. In the last couple of decades these forests have been encroached, chopped and cleared for various reasons like timber, which is used in construction, mainly. The sparse forests then don't attract the rain bearing clods from the Sea and cutting down the forests also dries up water points.

We must at least understand that the trees and the canopy of the trees are the lungs of the earth and their destruction will eventually lead to the bizarre consequences of droughts and unseasonal rains which recently lambasted the North Karnataka region and also the Kodagu district which is still green in our memories. Cutting trees along the roads of the forests to widen roads and so on must also be avoided.

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