Sunday, February 22, 2009

Water crisis in the villages on the Nongkhlieh ridges

Caves photo are copyrighted property
Elaka Nongkhlieh which lies to the east of Jowai under the Saipung Block is one of the most neglected areas on the District but recently the area receives tremendous attention due to two reasons. The area under the Nongkhlieh ridge is unique because it has the highest density of caves and the area also boast to have in its procession the longest and the deepest cave in the country. The second reason is also because the Elaka has huge mineral reserves which consist of lime stones and coal deposits.

Children in Nongkhlieh particularly girls in the age 7 to 19 spend most of their waking time in collecting water. Wells near the village has dried out and only those on the lower slopes of the hills still have some water. Even from these wells, children have to wait for hours to fill one pot and after the tiresome business of collecting water; they have to climb steep hill with a vessel full with water on their head to reach home. Papun O. Sukhlein one of the oldest villager, said “during our childhood we never have any water problem whatsoever, because our hills were still covered with forest and huge trees but now the hills are barren he lamented.” The trees were cut to provide firewood for the migrant labourers who work in the mines in the lower slopes of the ridge. Ma K. Pajuh who also spoke to the scribe said “there were times when we do not take bath for weeks together because the water is so scarce.” Ioo Sukhlain a Shaktiman driver, whom we met while trying to fill the plastic water tanks (syntex) from a lake far from the village, said “we have to consume whatever water we can get even if we know that it is not fit for consumption.” Rich people were not affected by the water scarcity because they have vehicles to collect water for them from any distance, but it is the poor who have to bear the brunt.

Nongkhlieh ridge as the name itself implies is located on the top of the area surrounded by valleys on every sides. Even though the people of Nongkhlieh Elaka prohibit mining in the Elaka in any form, people living in the vicinity of the Elaka has started mining at the foot hills of the ridge. Ma Dot Phyrngap an elder in the Elaka said “ Till now the Elaka does not encourage people to register their land in the district council, because we still believe that the land belong to all the people and one owned the land only while one uses it. Once a person abandoned the land, it goes back to the Elaka and that same can be given to others.” He also said that “If we allow people to apply for Land Holding Certificate from the Council, only rich people will benefited from it while poor farmers will be deprived of their rights to land.”

It is tragic that even if there is no mining activity in Nongkhlieh till now, yet it was affected by the mining done on the lower slopes of its hills.

Brian Kharpran Daly, leader of the Meghalaya Adventure Association, who is currently camping in the area; when asked about the water crisis face by the Nongkhlieh Elaka, he said, the reason for scarcity of water is due rampant mining on the surrounding foot hills of the ridge. Simple hydrological knowledge tells us the once mining is started on the foot hills, water level will fall down. He also said that the coal mining process in the area also involved pumping out of water from the mines to facilitate mining, this not only draw the scarce commodity from underground, but it also polluted the surface water.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cavers found New Aquatic life in Nongkhlieh Caves

The annual cave expedition aptly called Caving in the abode of cloud organised by Meghalaya Adventure Association started on the February 2 at Nongkhlieh in the Saipung Sub Division to the east of Jowai. The cave exploration is regular annual event in which cavers from the world over took part in the expeditions; and since 1992 the cavers has surveyed and map more than 300 KM of caves in the state of Meghalaya alone.

Simon Brooks a team leader from UK and who has been caving in the different parts of the World said that the caves in the Jaintia hills especially in the Nongkhlieh ridge are unique because there are all kinds of caves both horizontal and vertical caves in the region. Bah Brian Kharpran Dally a pioneer in caving expedition among the Meghalaya and recipient of Tezing Norgay award from the government of India said that the Nongkhlieh ridge is important for the state because we have Krem Liatprah which is the longest cave and the krem Synrang Pamiang the deepest cave in the country. Brian also told this scribe that Nongkhlieh ridge is unique because in the 30 square KM area, they have mapped more than 100 KM of caves.

On the important of the scientific studies of the caves, bah Brian said that the cave is not only important to archeologist, paleontologist, zoologist and others; we now even have climatologist who came to study the caves. He also add that krem Liatprah is one of the oldest cave in the Meghalaya which had formed million of years ago and the cave is like a time capsule where climatologist learned about the monsoon and the climate change over thousand of years.

The area is exceptional caving region not only because of the network of caves, it is equally important because inside the caves there are also cave’s creatures which can be found only in the caves of this area. Most of the creatures found in the area are bats but deep down in the belly of the nature; they also found cricket with antennae ten times the size of the insect. Creature inside the cave has over the years evolved in the hostile environment of total darkness that they live so both fishes and insects have no eyes. Last year also the cavers caught a fish from one of the cave, the same has been send for study. This year rather unexpectedly, a fish was accidentally caught in one of the accessories of the cavers and bah Brian categorically confirmed that it is totally a new species altogether.

In this particular expedition, the cavers not only include professionals from abroad, but for the first time in the history of the armed force in the country, a contingent of Indian Navy under Commander Vijay Chhikara joined the expedition. Chhikara said that it is an honoured that the MAA has agreed to take them because armed force has climb mount Everest, explored North pole but, this is the first caving expedition by any branch of the armed force.