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Dionne Bunsha is an award winning journalist and humanitarian author. She has written extensively on a diverse range of human rights, social justice, and environmental issues

Featured Stories

  • What Clayoquot Sound Faces Now

    What Clayoquot Sound Faces Now

    October 17, 20130 Comments
    A historic opportunity to protect BC old growth forest, through new partnerships. By Dionne Bunsha, 19 Aug 2013, TheTyee.ca It has been 20 years since Clayoquot witnessed one of the biggest civil rights protests in Canada's history against the logging of old growth forests. Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is one of British Columbia's most popular tourist destinations, with white surf, long stretches of beaches and towering rainforests. In the summer of 1993, over 12,000 participated in the historic protests and more than 800 people were arrested. The protests were accompanied by an international campaign to boycott timber from B.C. Today, efforts to protect Clayoquot's intact watersheds continue. The old growth forests haven't yet been logged, but they are still not legally protected. Clayoquot Sound is considered important for conservation because it has some of the last remaining rare intact watersheds and old growth temperate rainforests in Vancouver Island.
    The 'Summer of 1993' protests in Clayoquot prompted landmark changes in forestry, not only in Clayoquot Sound, but also influenced land use planning in other regions like the Great Bear Rainforest. In response to the protests, the government of B.C. appointed a scientific panel comprising scientists and First Nations elders to devise sustainable forestry practices. The panel introduced a new approach to land use planning called ecosystem-based management that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, and allocates areas for protection as well as sustainable human use. It led to community-based watershed planning, which incorporated precautionary measures to protect the ecological and First Nations cultural values of Clayoquot's forests. The watershed plans added a network of reserves, resulting in a total of about 61 per cent of Clayoquot's forested land base in parks or reserves. As an alternative to clear cutting forests, the panel suggested variable retention, a system in which only a portion of the cut block is logged and the rest is retained in order to preserve environmental values.

    ClayoquotBirdsEye_600px.jpg

    Will First Nations and the B.C. government find a way to protect their intact forests? Photo by SparkyLeigh, Creative Commons licensed.

    The major forestry company operating in Clayoquot sold its Tree Farm Licenses (forestry licenses) to the five First Nations in the area -- the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Yuutuʔitʔath and Toquaht -- who formed Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd., a pioneering First Nations-owned forestry company. "Iisaak" means respect in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, and the company has avoided logging in the intact forests so far despite severe monetary pressures. In 1999, Iisaak signed a Memorandum of Understanding with environmental organizations in which it agreed not to log in Clayoquot's ecologically intact watersheds, and to adopt the international Forest Stewardship Council certification. In exchange, the environmental groups agreed to endorse Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. as a model of ecologically sustainable forestry, assist in its development and help market its products. Big debt to chop down However, it has been difficult for Iisaak to balance sustainable forestry and economic viability, a challenge that some of the world's biggest forestry companies shied away from in this controversial region. The company has to service a debt that it incurred to buy the Tree Farm Licenses from the large forestry companies. Under pressure to show financial returns, Iisaak toyed with the idea of logging Flores Island in 2011, one of the intact watersheds. The plan prompted opposition from environmentalists and some First Nations members, and was not executed. "It would be tragic if the intact forests were cut just to pay off the banks, with no benefit to the communities," said an environmental activist. An alliance of environmental organizations including the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, ForestEthics Solutions and Greenpeace have been working with Iisaak and the region's First Nations leadership towards solutions to protect intact watersheds. Along with philanthropic organizations, they are trying to negotiate a "conservation finance" agreement with the First Nations that own Iisaak. The alliance is trying to raise money to pay off Iisaak's debt and to fund sustainable economic projects in return for an agreement that the B.C. government and the region's First Nations through Iisaak will protect Clayoquot's remaining intact watersheds. To accompany this agreement, Saya Masso, a resource worker for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, feels that the B.C. government needs to reform forestry tenure law to give Tree Farm License owners the option of having a "conservation tenure." This would ease the pressure on tenure owners to log and pay high rents to the government and allow sustainable options like carbon credits. Several First Nations members have fought to preserve Clayoquot's old growth forests. Some leaders were part of the summer of 1993 protests. Prior to the protests, First Nations led historic demonstrations against plans to log intact Meares Island and won a landmark Supreme Court case in 1985 that declared an injunction against logging there. Now, the fate of Clayoquot's forests is in their hands. Will the First Nations and the B.C. government find a way to protect their intact forests? The Tyee, 19 August 2013.  
  • Gone with the Waves

    Gone with the Waves

    October 16, 20131 Comments
      Rapid sea invasion along the Gujarat coast is forcing families of fishermen to abandon the sea and their homes. TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIONNE BUNSHA  

    danti1Villagers with bricks retrieved from their old homes in Danti.

    DANTI in Valsad district of Gujarat is being invaded. More than half the residents of this sleepy fishing village have fled already. It is not guns and troops that they are running away from. The sea they revere has swallowed up the village and is making them beat a retreat every year. Only the poorest remain on the edge of the village, with just a sea wall for protection. On one side of the wall are lashing waves. On the other are ramshackle, makeshift huts. No one here has permanent brick homes. They have to rebuild every year after the waters rush in over the wall. The sea knows no boundaries. Govindbhai Tandel is the first to face its fury. His hut lies at the tip of the village, very close to the seafront, unprotected even by a stone wall. Govindbhai is back home after spending eight months away at sea on his fishing boat. He returns to Danti during the monsoon, when it is too rough to be out fishing. But there is no rest at home. His family is hard at work filling their porch with sand, trying to elevate the entrance to prevent the tide from coming in. There is not much they can do. Water will flood their home anyway. It is only an effort at damage control. "We have moved back three kilometres in the last 20 years. Our original village was out there. You can't even see it now," says Govindbhai. "Three village wells have been submerged. We've relocated the school thrice. I've shifted home thrice so far. Can you see out there? That's where my last house was," he says pointing to a distant spot in the sea. The village is long gone, but lives in memory. As we walked around the village, most people pointed to various landmarks - all in the water. Nostalgia is the only thing that remains. During low tide, the beach is a hive of activity. Families are hard at work, trying to salvage bricks from the ruins of their old homes. On the seashore is a brick wall with an arch - the remnants of Damentiben Tandel's house. "It broke three years ago. Since then, we have kept moving and rebuilding every year," she says. "When the water comes in every monsoon, it's knee-high. We have to put our kids on the roof in the pouring rain. We don't have the money to buy land and move out, so we remain here."

    danti2A road built two years ago near Kaladra village has been eroded. A sea wall (in the foreground) offered little protection.

    There is often a lot of water in their homes, but not a drop to drink. "Our wells are in the sea. We get drinking water from the tap once every week or in 15 days. Otherwise, we have to buy water. Tempos come and supply water. It is Rs.30 a barrel, which lasts a day," says Damentiben. Danti is on the coast of south Gujarat, one of the most industrialised areas in the country. It is called the `Golden Corridor', but has some of the country's worst polluted spots such as Ankleshwar and Vapi. Dandi, the site of Mahatma Gandhi's historic Salt March, is 12 km from Danti. "The fish have gone further into the sea because of [industrial] pollution. And the water has come further in; so we have suffered. We can't go very far in our tiny boats. We used to get 400 to 600 fish in one night. Now we barely get a hundred," says Shantibhai Tandel, a small fisherman. He has shifted back six times and is now in his seventh house. "I want my kids to study. The only thing is we can't afford donations for their education or bribes to get them a job. If they are lucky, they will find a job, otherwise they will have to stay here, continue fishing and face the hardships." Sandwiched as they are between the sea and the saltpans, there is not much further they can retreat. Many from the village have moved to other towns or to Dandi in the past eight years. But like Mahesh Hari Tandel, those who moved out for safety reasons still yearn for the sea. "My boat is still in Danti and I feel I have to go there every day," he says. "When my father was alive, we shifted our house four times. After he died, our house broke twice and then we moved here. After we lost the mangroves in the last 15 to 20 years, many people had to migrate to big port towns like Mumbai, Porbandar or Veraval in search of work. Earlier, we could survive by fishing close to the shore and in the mangroves." The villagers along the coast are not sure why the sea is advancing at such a voracious pace. Some fishermen guessed it might be "because there are more storms in the sea". One of the reasons could be a rise in sea level owing to global warming. They don't know what global warming means, but have become "environmental refugees". Although they are barely surviving, the fisherfolk are facing the brunt of reckless consumption in more affluent places. Ironically, most of these villages have not been provided electric metres. People tap electricity from the power cables that run above their homes.

    danti3A house ravaged by the sea at New Kaladra in Bharuch district.

    Geologists from M.S. University, Vadodara, are studying the Gujarat coastline as part of an all-India study by the Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). "Our preliminary observations reveal that the seawater has shifted in by 10-15 metres in 10 years, and at places it has moved around 80 metres horizontally," says Dr. Nikhil Desai, who is heading the survey of the Gujarat coast. They are comparing recent satellite images with Survey of India maps prepared in the 1960s, and have observed that the contours of Gujarat's coast are changing. Several places along India's 7,500 km-long coastline are experiencing similar erosion. In the Sunderbans, two islands have already vanished from the map, displacing 7,000 people. Twelve more islands are likely to go under owing to an annual 3.14 mm sea level rise, which will make 70,000 people refugees. Five villages in Orissa's Bhitarkanika National Park, famous for the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles, have been submerged, and 18 others are likely to go under. India is one of 27 countries identified by the United Nations as the most vulnerable to the impact of global warming-related sea level rise. Rising sea level "Observations suggest that the sea level has risen at a rate of 2.5 mm a year along the Indian coastline since the 1950s. A mean sea level rise of between 15 cm and 38 cm is projected by the middle of the century along India's coast. Added to this, a 15 per cent projected increase in intensity of tropical cyclones would significantly enhance the vulnerability of populations in cyclone-prone coastal regions," according to Dr. Murari Lal, a renowned climatologist engaged in research related to climate change vulnerability analysis in India. Lal has been one of the lead authors of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports for over 15 years, which collates research about climate change from scientific work across the world.

    danti4Jayantibhai Rathod repairs his fishing net at New Kaladra, where he resettled after the fishing colony at Kaladra was submerged 15 years ago.

    "No local studies have been done in India to measure the precise impact of global warming. But, in the last decade, several factors contributed to the loss of coastal land due to sea level rise," says Murari Lal. "Arctic ice has melted three times faster than predicted by the IPCC in 2001. The sea level has risen twice more than projected by the climate models. Stronger surface winds and storms have resulted in higher waves, which reach further inland. Human interventions, such as the removal of mangroves, reclamation and construction along the coast, have also led to faster erosion of the coast." "Sea rise due to global warming could be just one of the reasons for the erosion along the Gujarat coast," says Desai. "Local factors could also be responsible. Neo-tectonic activity - shifts in the level of the seabed - could also cause the sea level to rise. If there are disturbances in sediment budgeting along the coast, the amount of deposits from rivers, it could also affect the water level." Their study will determine which of these reasons is driving the changes along the coast. Further north, at the estuary of the river Narmada, Kaladra village in Bharuch district is also being nibbled away by the sea. Several houses are broken and hanging on the edge of a cliff of sand that threatens to cave in at any point. A sea wall built 20 years ago is now a relic of the past. A road constructed two years ago (at a cost of Rs.30 lakh) has been cut like a cake by the lashing waves. "The poorest are the most directly affected by this. Most families here are in a dilemma. They can't afford to shift but they cannot stay here either," said Desai.

    danti5Children help in raising the level of Govindbhai Tandel's house in Danti as the family braces itself for the onslaught of the monsoon.

    Kaladra too has been almost abandoned. The Rathod fishing colony here was washed away some 20 years ago. The fisherfolk resettled in "New Kaladra", a little higher up the estuary, but their houses are still temporary. Here too, there is no escape from the advancing water. "For around six days every monsoon, the water is waist deep. Then, we bring our boats to the doorstep and fill all our stuff in it," says Jayantibhai Rathod, a fisherman. When fishermen are forced to run away from the sea and they do not want their sons to continue their trade, it is time to start worrying. "This is a land of sand so you can never tell when it will shift," says Shantibhai Tandel.

    danti7A view of an eroded road in Kaladra.

    "We will keep moving back as far as we can. Then, it's in the hands of destiny." It is total surrender to the forces of nature. But how much of Nature's fury has been because of the recklessness of other people? The residents of Danti and Kaladra are too busy surviving the onslaught of the sea to dwell on the actions of others. It is the last thing on their minds as they sit on their rooftops in the pouring rain. Frontline, Jul. 14-27, 2007   danti8  
  • The Holes in our Chappals

    The Holes in our Chappals

    June 30, 20071 Comments
    Farmers are killing themselves in Gujarat.  DIONNE BUNSHA Amreli, Gujarat “Gujarat’s farmers aren’t like those in other states. Our farmers drive Maruti cars,” chief minister Narendra Modi declares in his speeches at public meetings. If he met the widows of farmers in Gujarat who have committed suicide, he would probably choke on his words. Prabhaben Pungalpara was at her sister’s house when her husband Ramesh hung himself from a noose and ended his misery. He probably sent her there to soften the blow. Ramesh’s relatives rushed him to Rajkot hospital but it was too late. Now, Prabhaben’s nightmare was about to begin. “I have two girls and a boy. We will have to manage somehow. I sold off our two buffaloes after he died. My son has gone to Surat to work in a diamond polishing workshop. Ramesh’s brothers have taken care of us,” says Prabhaben from Sarapdar village. Ramesh and his four brothers have a 20–acre farm. “Our cotton and jeera crop failed for two years, so he was very tense,” said his brother Amarsibhai. But the police report says that he killed himself because of a family dispute. “The first police report said that he died because his crop failed, but later the police changed the story,” says Prabhaben. “They told me ‘you have such a big house, there must be some other reason for the suicide. If we give compensation in one case, people will start killing themselves and we will have to give them all’. The police just want to suppress the case.” “If the government can help Maharashtra’s widows, then why can’t they help women in Gujarat?” asks Prabhaben. Maybe because it would shatter the chief minister’s delusions? Across Gujarat farmers’ suicides are either unreported or wrongly reported.  

    Pahubhai Dakhada, 35, preferred death to a life of debt. His suicide didn't make it to the government's records. Photo: Dionne Bunsha

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  • At a Hindutva factory

    At a Hindutva factory

    November 18, 20060 Comments
    Rifle shooting, lathi combat and how to fight anti-nationals. All part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s training camp at Patan.  An account of a visit to a training camp run by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. DIONNE BUNSHA in Patan The gates to the empty school were wide open. But there was a bamboo barricade. Two rifle-toting Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers, in trademark khaki shorts, patrolled the entrance. The sound of gun shots greeted us as we drove inside. Rifle training was under way.

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