Vasanta, Sathya and Prema are part of the Irula Community living in the Protected Area Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, which can be found in the Nilgiris District of Tamil Nādu, India. The Moyar River flows through the reserve, with the water being shared between wildlife and local communities. Many streams and springs run through the dry deciduous forests that can be found in that area, however water issues have become increasingly common. In the past ten years, there have been changes in rainfall patterns affecting the forest ecosystem as well as the wellbeing and livelihoods of local communities.

“As we live so close to the forest, we can see the changes right away. These are the months of Butea Monosperma flowering. The flowers are also commonly called the flame of the forest because of its rich orange colour. One thing we have noticed is the colours of the flower are not the same. It seems dull and, in some trees, there is no flowering at all.”

People who have lived in the area for generations indicate that the dams built across the Moyar River have changed the water flow rate and the riverine ecosystem. At the time, these dams were seen as the solution to increase the water availability for the reserve, however due to poorly built constructions and limited involvement of the local community in the development process, these dams are rarely and inadequately used.

Now, with the negative impacts of the climate crisis, the community is increasingly facing altered weather patterns, such as unseasonal rains and drought. More and more, drinking water is less available, and community members are moving away from their traditional practices, including: altering cultural rituals that were usually conducted in surrounding water springs; as well as shifting farming activities towards wage labour or cash crops of floriculture and vegetables.

The Irula Community has raised this issue during their collective meetings with local government bodies and other concerned officials. Until now, the solution provided has been to dig borewells, which has helped in reducing the drinking water issue within the community, however people within the communities indicate that the water quality is poor. The local authorities are not providing local communities space to collectively develop a long-term solution to a problem which will increasingly get worse. There is a need to build the synergy to discuss with government bodies how to address this issue from a climate crisis perspective.

Together, Vasanta, Sathya and Prema are tirelessly working towards finding possible long-term solutions to the problems faced by the Irula Community along with other interested community members. Vasanta works on community media initiatives, increasingly covering climate related issues through the “Seemai Sudhi”, which has been important to build awareness: “I have experienced how people take information seriously when they see or hear it from a mass media than spoken to them in person.” Sathya and Prema, who previously worked as Barefoot Ecologists, are now engaged in climate education in local schools: “The sessions that we engage in help our children to become more aware about climate change and their surroundings. School children become a channel to convey climate related messages to their parents.” Across the work they do, they see the need to connect communities’ land rights, access to and care of the surrounding forest ecosystems and improved health facilities for women and children.

They have also learned about Analog Forestry through different trainings provided through the support of Keystone Foundation and the International Analog Forestry Network. In their area, two other persons, Bellu amma and Rajendran anna have set up Analog Forestry plots and they have seen the potential of these becoming models for the community to recover and learn about agro-ecological practices, restore water flows, access natural medicine and strengthen their relationship with the surrounding nature.

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