Guwahati, Feb 2: Located at a distance of over 60 km from the city of Guwahati, the Chandubi lake is the result of a catastrophe which turned into a sea of opportunities. From attracting migratory birds to a getaway spot for city dwellers the lake has stood the test of time.
Based on the foothills of Assam-Meghalaya border, the lake was formed at the backdrop of the 1897 Assam earthquake when a land area sank to become the present day Chandubi lake.
Surrounded by forest areas with the river Kulsi river flowing in close vicinity, the biodiversity hotspot also reflects the cultural aspects of the indigenous communities living along the border between Assam and Meghalaya and are also dependent upon the lake for livelihood. The lake is a reservoir for many species of indigenous fishes, turtles, birds, amphibians, algae and several migratory birds.
Over the years, several reports were published which highlighted the plight of the lake including illegal sand mining, deforestation and shrinking of the lake. A 2012 study conducted by the Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre (ARSAC) of the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) in 1911-12, the Beel had a water-spread area of 448.60 hectares. In 1954, it spread to 481.19 hectares. In 1967-68, it recorded a decreased water-spread area of 392.61 hectares. In 1997, it recorded a water-spread area of 203.20 hectares and in 2007, it recorded a water-spread area of 186.52 hectares.
Amongst other studies, a research on the ecosystem valuation of Chandubi wetland and its rich biodiversity was published in 2021 in a chapter titled ‘Economic Values of Wetland Ecosystem: A Study of Emerging Role of Monetary Evaluation of Chandubi Ecosystem and Biodiversity’. The chapter was published in the book ‘Wetland Conservation: Current Challenges and Future Strategies’.
Economic valuation is a tool for valuing ecosystems and their services in monetary terms. Researchers Moharana Choudhury, an environmentalist, and Deepak Kumar of the United Nations Development Programme, estimated that the monetary value of Chandubi Lake ranges from a minimum of Rs 3,479/hectare to Rs 17,31,690/hectare/year at the dollar prices during the period of research which was conducted from January 2019 to February 2021.
An excerpt from the summary of the study states that Chandubi Wetland is facing a serious ecosystem marginalization where ecosystem services have not been priced and reflected in decision making and which proves a complete market failure. Agriculture yield from transformed/converted/encroached lake does not reflect values depleted due to flood protection, fisheries, biodiversity, etc. People who degrade are not the same whose livelihoods are affected leading to continued deterioration of wetland. Wetland governance has been ineffective in addressing sectoral policies providing incentives, thus leading to wetland deterioration.
Following the study, the researches sought for a Ramsar status for Chandubi for the overall development of the wetland in 2021. However, they have not yet received any proper update regarding the matter.
“As per our scientific research we highlighted the potential Chandubi holds in terms of natural resources and economic value. It’s a natural structure that was formed during the earthquake. The area is surrounded by the hills of Meghalaya on one side and Assam’s low-lying areas on the other side. Moreover, the rich natural resources also have the potential to generate livelihood,” said Choudhury while speaking to The Assam Tribune.
In Assam, only Deepor Beel has been recognised as Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of Ramsar sites (wetlands). It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands and is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971.
However, despite the tag Deepor beel have been facing severe natural and anthropogenic causes including the proliferation of human settlements, expansion of roads and industries, dumping sites and railway crossings which often disturbs the movement of elephants in the area.
On being asked whether a tag is enough for the conservation of wetlands, Choudhury states, “We studied on ecosystem services and value of the biodiversity and other aspects. The Ramsar convention is an international body, and once Chandubi lake gets recognised, the stakeholders will make efforts for the overall development of the wetland including the livelihood of the people whilst transforming the lake's socio-economic and environmental requirements.”
Speaking about the shrinking of the lake, Choudhury informed that more in-depth study is required to identify the causes behind it.