Ecosystem-based response vital during disasters, including COVID-19

“UPSCALING and mainstreaming rapid response mechanisms, is the need of the hour,” said Alexander Muller, Managing Director TMG Research.  

He was speaking at a state-level online workshop jointly organised by Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), the WOTR Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS), and TMG Research GmbH, Berlin, on the Maharashtra Foundation Day. The session discussed at length ‘Ecosystem-based Adaptation for Building Resilience to Climate Risks during COVID-19 in Rural Maharashtra’.

The agenda was to explore ways to draw up an informed roadmap for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in rural Maharashtra to mitigate the fallout of the climate crisis, now exacerbated by COVID-19. The objective was to improve the resilience of Maharashtra’s land resources and especially the lives of the people of rural Maharashtra,” said W-CReS Director, Marcella D’Souza in his welcome note.

The session kicked-off with TMG Research Managing Director Alexander Muller expressing grave concern. “Now we are aware that robust EbAs are a tool to avoid a pandemic,” he said stressing the need for upscaling and mainstreaming rapid response mechanisms. Muller is the current head of a global study by the UN Environment Programme on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food’ and also the former Assistant-Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)

Among the seventy-odd participants, comprising various policymakers, researchers and thought leaders from across sectors, was the Agricultural Secretary to the Maharashtra Govt, Eknath Dawale, who observed that the ongoing lockdown has cut the supply chains and put the grape and mango farmers of Maharashtra in a fix; some, however, we’re finding ways to mitigate the losses incurred by engaging in innovative ways. “Anything that happens in Brazil or the US affects the soybean or cotton farmer in Maharashtra. From the EbA point of view, a rethink is absolutely necessary to draw proper responses to the unfolding climate emergency,” he said.

Though various key points were raised and discussed, the one thing that stood out was the Bhojdar case study. While it is a testimony to the benefits of watershed development, the reverse urban-rural migration post-COVID-19 may help support livelihoods in rural Maharashtra, thanks to timely EbA interventions, observed WCReS senior researcher Dr Niraj Joshi.

Nandurbar district is the most vulnerable to climate risks and Satara the least, State Environment Department Director Narendra Toke revealed while unveiling plans for ‘climate-proofing’ villages. Senior WOTR researcher Arjuna Srinidhi explained how soil, water, and the catchment area – an ecosystem’s smallest building blocks — make up the core components of EbA.

“We must make sure the concerned agencies do not abandon the farmers after project completion, as the contexts and related challenges keep shifting rapidly. Could this be the way forward?”, asked W- CReS Director Marcella D’Souza.

According to WOTR’s Managing Trustee Crispino Lobo, a robust and nuanced EbA strategy should be holistic, multi-sectoral, and keeping in mind system- dynamics for proper design and implementation. It must be rooted in the hydrological basis of the watershed or the sub-basin.

“The sheer complexity of EbA requires a multitude of stakeholders – a “coalition of the willing and a symphony of helping hands’ coming together to overcome policy constraints, implementation gaps, and political hurdles,” Lobo concluded.

This consultation was a part of the project titled “Climate-SDGs Integration Project: Supporting the Implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda Through Ecosystem-based Adaptation” that is funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, and jointly implemented by the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), Pune, and TMG Research GmbH, Berlin. In India, the project is envisaged for Maharashtra and aims at developing a Roadmap for upscaling ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) in the state.

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