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As urban spaces grow and human habitation impinges on the boundary of protected areas and forests, human-animal conflicts are witnessing a rise. While this is true globally, India stands particularly vulnerable.
According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund( WWF), the country will be most affected by human-wildlife conflict, since it not only has the world’s second-largest human population, but also large populations of tigers, Asian elephants, one-horned rhinos, Asiatic lions and other species.
Dr Amarendra Das is a Reader (F) in the discipline of Economics at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Science Education and Research Bhubaneswar (NISER), Odisha. His broad research interests include Environmental Economics and Environmental Impact Assessment, Natural Resources Management, Impact Evaluation and Mining, Forestry, Human-wildlife conflict, etc.
In an interview conducted over email, Das talks about the relationship between climate change and its impact on human-wildlife conflict, how climate change has increased this conflict, and what the government can do to reduce it.
Prasanta Patri (PP): What is the current scenario of India with respect to climate change?
Amarendra Das (AD): The increasing frequency of natural disasters-cum-extreme climatic events, especially floods and cyclones, rising summer temperature, and shorter winter spans are perhaps the early signs of climate change in India. The impact of it is going to be extreme – especially on vulnerable populations like the poor, as well as women who tend to suffer more from extreme climatic events such as floods and cyclones.
PP: Is Climate Change a major reason for human-wildlife conflict?
AD: Yes, it is one of the reasons for human-wildlife conflict. Apart from Climate Change, the degradation of forests by human beings and the plantation of alien species in forests have substantially reduced the food, fodder, and habitats of wild animals. Climate change is playing the role of exacerbating the problem further.
Degradation of forests, increase in human settlements, agricultural expansion, rapid urbanization, and illegal grass collections are increasing the human-wildlife conflict. The rising temperature also increases the risk of forest fires and hence plays a role in the increase in human-wildlife conflict.
PP: Can you explain how climate change exacerbates these conflicts?
AD: Human-wildlife interactions can be both positive and negative. But recent trends suggest an increasing trend of negativity as humans and wildlife compete with each other for food and resources. With the increasing frequency of forest fires, rise in natural disasters, loss of habitat, food, and fodder for animals, the conflicts are only likely to increase.
PP: Can you please through some light on the nature of the human-wildlife conflict in the Indian Himalayan biodiversity hotspot?
AD: Human elephant conflict is rampant throughout the country. The conflict between humans and -monkeys are also spreading rapidly. For example, the state of Uttarakhand is witnessing a severe monkey menace presently. This is hampering agricultural activities in the area. We need to do special research on how to reduce these conflicts.
PP: In your opinion, is the government paying enough attention to this issue?
AD: India is witnessing a definite increase in conflict between humans and wildlife. On its part, the government is doing many things to prioritize the protection of wildlife. For example, it set up the Standing Committee on the National Board of Wildlife (SC-NBWL).
In its 60th meeting that was held in January this year, the Committee approved the advisory for management of human-wildlife conflict in the country. The advisory also makes important prescriptions for the States/ Union Territories for dealing with Human-Wildlife conflict situations and seeks expedited inter-departmental coordinated and effective actions.
It also envisages empowering gram panchayats in dealing with the problematic wild animals as per Section 11 (1) (b) of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, as well as ensuring provision of crop compensation through add-on coverage under the Pradhan MantriFasalBimaYojna against crop damage due to HWC.
Some state governments, like the government of Uttar Pradesh, have listed the man-animal conflict under disasters in the state Disaster Response Fund.
But even though many policy announcements have been made at the national level, not much action has been taken in this regard.
PP: Please throw some light on the legal framework that applies to protect the interest of the bio-diversity and wildlife as far as CC is concerned.
AD: The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Biological Diversity Act, 2002 are some of the important legislation in this regard. Strict enforcement of these legislations can help us in the protection of biodiversity and reduce human-wildlife conflict.
PP: Is it necessary for the government or every stakeholder to focus on the bad impact of climate change on human-wildlife conflict?
AD: To mitigate the effects of climate change, the government alone cannot do much. It needs mass mobilization and participation of all sections of the society to bring down the consequences of climate change and climate change-induced human-wildlife conflict.
PP: What major development interventions and adaptation decisions should be taken for the wellbeing of the human-wildlife conflict?
AD: We need to achieve the national goal of keeping 33% of land under forest cover. We need to leave that area in complete wilderness. Human activities inside the forest should be strictly prohibited.
PP: “Climate change will exacerbate conflicts over natural resources between and within species” What is your kind response to this statement?
AD: The conflicts over water and land are going to be severe. Similarly, the degradation of forests and biodiversity is going to increase the conflict over resources between and within species.