Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

The Green Corridors: Can Goa's Khazans Mitigate The Effects Of Climate Change?


The Green Corridors: Can Goa's Khazans Mitigate The Effects Of Climate Change?

As Goa faces climate change threats from rising sea levels and extreme tidal events, its age-old khazans could come to the rescue

Blue Horizon: A manos of a khazan Photograph: Shutterstock

Coastal regions of the world are eco-­fr­a­gile systems as they integr­ate complex processes like tid­al systems, offshore currents, waves, erosion, accretion, beaches, dunes, wetlands, tidal channels. Due to the global impact of climate change, the United Nations Framework Convent­ion on Climate Change (UNFCC) is strongly leading nat­i­ons to initiate action plans for sustainable dev­e­lopment. In Asia, sea level rise is conside­red as one of the severe threats. Goa has 105 km of seafront along the Konkan coast, southwest of India. The low­est land in Goa is uniquely known as the khazan ecosystem. These are land livelihood systems traditionally evolved by local communities through experiential learnings over thousands of years. The land, which was once low-lying tidal flood plains, was enginee­red intricately with dykes, sluice gates and water channels. Traditional occupations sup­p­o­­r­ted were agriculture, aquaculture and salt making. The indigenous village communities, also kno­wn as Gaunkari (common pool resource) villagers or co-owners, maintained these khazan infrast­r­uctures for their annual food produce. Socially, eco­nomically and environmentally woven into the­ir lifestyle, these khazans are the cultural landscape of Goa’s villages. Today, these existing ecosystems additiona­lly have inherent potential to withstand sea-level rise or flooding and other related coastal risks from climate change. Currently, events such as tides whose range extends up to 2.5 m, and heavy daily rainfall of 0.3 m occur simultaneously, with progressively increasing sea level, the total rise in water levels easily reac­h three metres. Khazan ecosystems and their potential to defend against coas­tal hazards can provide a base map to authorities for disaster management in Goa.

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What is the scope of this study?

In view of climate change risk of sea level rise what is the defence capability of khazan ecosystems, the extent of khazans impacted in Goa’s most vulnerable taluka? What are the governing systems which need attention locally? Finally, what are the resilie­nce measu­res that need urgent consideration? All of this involves understanding an age old vernacular system. Its design, evolution and management needs to be highlighted. The spatial analysis can establish the topography modelling to identify the risk areas. The ground truthing data can corroborate the physical state for prioritising action plans.

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Can khazans defend Goa?

As per the research available on khazans by emin­ent local researchers, it is amply clear the ecos­yst­ems had specific components which were typ­ic­ally present in all khazan locations. Since reclaiming low-­lying land involves dra­i­ning it for productive use, the existing khazan infrastructure was built to protect land from sal­ine water ingress and to reg­ulate it while draining. So, dykes (locally called bunds), sluice gates (loc­ally called manos) and wat­er bodies networks (locally called poiems) were establish in each ext­ent of khazans that lie along rivers or their tributaries. These systems are worthy of GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultu­ral Heritage Systems) status. The digital elevation of these areas reveal that most of them are within a 5 m elevation. The estimated extent of khazans acr­oss Goa is 18,500 hectares (185 Half of this is within Tiswadi, the smallest taluka of north Goa. The coastal talukas of Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete comprise of the majority of the khazan land along the Goa coast. This corroborates the fact that these three talukas are listed as most vulnerable and has the most bunds across its territories built to protect its land. The bund records ava­ilable in the notificati­ons of the Government of Goa shows approximately 500 bunds across Goa, 300 of which are wit­hin these three vulnerable talukas. Traditional knowledge and verna­cular methods have been adopted by the ancestral communities to build these systems inch by inch thro­ugh extensive manual labour and experiential lea­rning. The communities sustained themselves in an integrated manner with nat­ure and both thr­ived. If we consider the technology, scale of work, management practices, etc, these ecosystems seem to be ancient handmade marvels. The land within these khazan extents is all low lying and therefore needs to be protected from inundation by the bunds, which are along the outer water bodies. Principally therefore, these are defence systems required to protect land from inundation. Local communities completely agree with the reality of climate cha­nge risk of sea level rise and the fact that water levels have risen over the years. They also know that the existing khazan infrastr­u­cture is all they need for managing a flood disaster. The khazans were mainly designed as def­ence for livelihood through land management and thus have inbuilt capability to defend a sea-level rise.

Goa has tourism potential in all its landscape, including in its Khazans. Sustainable practices along with traditional knowledge are the way forward.

What are the resilient choices?

The site observation of each component of a kha­zan ecosystem reveals that they were built with sustainable materials like silt/clay, hay, wood, bam­boo, etc. The management systems built aro­und these were for 24-hour surveillance and upk­eep. As these were community ‘common pool res­ources’, the maintenance of these systems affected the livelihood of all and were hence considered high priority. However, their deteriorating condition point to various factors like managem­ent failure, changes in administrative and owners­hip status, land use and demogra­phy; enactm­ent of new land laws, unavailability of skilled local wor­kers and indifference of village communities. The advent of cement has also forced its unsustai­nable use in many khazans, which not only have struct­ural issues in water-based areas but also cau­se pol­lution, biodiversity damage and aesthe­tic str­ess on the cultural landscape. It will be a slap on the face of our ancestors if tomorrow, we repl­ace all the 500 bunds in Goa with concrete, to claim that we are defending ourselves from sea level rise, while killing the very reason–sustainability—they survived so many years. The hard toil and sweat of their hands will be turned into waste.

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Can khazans be the green corridors?

Goa has tourism potential in all its landscape. Kha­zan ecosystems are no different. Sustainable practices clubbed with traditional knowledge are the way forward. Why would anyone be interes­ted to see an age old system converted to concr­ete? Instead, if these systems make value add­i­tions by converting into green corridors across Goa, it would be a marvelous feat whose showcase could draw tourists. There is enough green knowledge expertise and technology to support and convert these spaces to not only sustain the occupational potential for the locals, but also add a tourism potential for their sustenance. Why wouldn’t a visitor be interested in seeing how Goa’s ancestors planned their lives and livelihoods, and more so, how the present communities have transitioned it with a whole new app­roach. In a decade of achieving sustainable development goals globally, we need to cross the comfort zones of our ivory tower planning and get on to the ground to feel how nature engineers its systems sustainably. Khazans are uniquely capable as flood defense and can be the green corridors of Goa.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "The Green Corridors")


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Elsa Fernandes is a Goa-based environmental architect