The 1999 super cyclone in Odisha destroyed their houses and livelihoods, but a group of women from Gundlaba village in the state took charge of rebuilding their lives by taking measures to conserve mangrove forests and marine species. The UN Thursday held up their model of conservation as worthy of emulation across the world.
Odisha's Pir Jahania Jungle Suraksha Committee, along with three other communities from across the country, were given the India Biodiversity Awards for good work done in the conservation of forests.
The United Nations Development Project (UNDP), which also came out with a report, said that the next generation of biodiversity governance models across the world can emerge from the knowledge of existing approaches in India.
The report 'Conservation Across Landscapes: Indian Approaches to Biodiversity Governance' explains India's extraordinary biological diversity and the variety or resource-use patterns which it has given rise to.
"The 1999 super cyclone wrecked havoc in our village. Houses were completely destroyed. Drinking water body turned saline, and trees were left uprooted. It was then that we formed a forest committee. We focused on conserving mangrove forests and managing nesting grounds of Olive Ridley turtles," Chathu Devi, who is member of the committee, told IANS.
Beaming with joy after winning the award, the 50-year-old, clad in a cotton sari, said the regeneration and conservation work taken by the committee has transformed the area.
"In the last 12 years, forest cover has gone up by 63 percent. Fish catch has increased from one kg to five kg per family. Migration has declined and coastal erosion has been controlled by mangrove regeneration," she said.
The experience of Udaipar-based Van Utthan Sansthan, which protects and manages 67,000 hectares of forest lands in 240 villages, was also similar.
"We have been working in several villages to address the issues of overgrazing, mining and illegal privatisation of forestlands. Conservation efforts have increased vegetative cover, important floral species and population of animals," said Kirtan Kumar of the community, whose efforts found recognition from the UN.
According to UNDP, the awardees were selected from 150 entries by a committee headed by renowned scientist M.S. Swaminathan.
The other conservation efforts to have won the UN award were the eco-development committee in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala, and the Joint Forest Management Committee at Shankarpur village of Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra.
Lise Grande, UNDP Resident Representative, India, said: "India's approach to balancing conservation and development has immense relevance for the world. Key to the Indian approach is using the economic potential of natural resources to reduce poverty and accelerate inclusive growth."