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Meet These Communities who Clean India’s Mountains, Beaches of Garbage Trails

"It is really about exploring spaces with empathy, and sense of preservation and sustainability"

garbage trails
A man guides a raft through a polluted canal littered with plastic bags and other garbage in Mumbai, India, Oct. 2, 2016. VOA

With an environmental crisis looming over the planet, is the way out community-led? Two cleaning initiatives in India, targeting heavily-visited – and littered – mountains and beaches, show how civic conviction can turn into an on-ground impact that ropes in local stakeholders.

‘Bringing back our old Dadar beach’ was the simple phrase motivating Chinu Kwatra, 28, when he first picked up garbage from the squalid Dadar beach two years ago — the first step of removal of more than 2,000 tonnes of garbage — and set the ball rolling for a community-led beach cleanup.

Recalling the episode, Maharashtra’s Thane-based Kwatra told IANS how momentous changes begin small. For his collective Beach Warriors, it began with a day-long cleanup drive after he saw ‘visarjit’ (immersed) Ganesha idols everywhere on the beach.

A Facebook post about it travelled to an old professor, who then suggested that they extend it beyond a day. However, even in the campaign’s second week, it was the same three people doing back-breaking work to free Dadar beach of its detritus. “I felt I will lose the battle if more citizens didn’t join us,” said Kwatra, who quit his job to take up community work.

garbage trails
There are an average of 20 volunteers cleaning each of the seven beaches they work on — Cuffe Parade, Worli, Bandra, Juhu, Erangal, Madh, and Dadar. Wikimedia Commons

To Kwatra’s surprise, it wasn’t long before local support started pouring in the form of students and “within an hour, from three the number rose to 25”, and then, attracted even more. What involved just two of his friends at first, propelled many communities into action. The team now gets volunteers from organisations, corporate houses, schools and colleges.

The social changemaker leads a core team of 40 Beach Warriors. There are an average of 20 volunteers cleaning each of the seven beaches they work on — Cuffe Parade, Worli, Bandra, Juhu, Erangal, Madh, and Dadar, he said.

Inviting other people to step forward in their respective communities, Kwatra said that they aren’t doing “anything great” but only what “every citizen must do”, regardless of administrative intervention.

Kwatra said he was inspired by Afroz Shah, an environmentalist and lawyer, who led another set of volunteers cleaning Mumbai’s Versova beach — often termed as the world’s largest beach cleanup drive. It has removed thousands of tonnes of waste from Versova beach. Kwatra has now trained his eyes on cleaning up the highly-polluted Yamuna river in Delhi.

nepal, mount everest, garbage trails
Workers from a recycling company load garbage collected and brought from Mount Everest, in Kathmandu, Nepal, June 5, 2019. VOA

In the northern part of India, another cleanup drive targets mountains. Trekking enthusiast Pradeep Sangwan, who leads a similar volunteer-driven cleaning initiative in the Himalayan cities, advocates for sustainable tourism along with encouraging communities to step forward for damage control. His collective Healing Himalayas Foundation, founded in 2016, collects garbage from trekking routes and areas around waterfalls.

Having worked around Manali, Kheerganga, Shimla, and more recently, Shrikhand, the sustained campaign has been vocal about reducing the carbon footprint and plastic waste tourists leave around, to the extent that “if a lost trekker follows the litter trail during a trek, she could find the group”.

ALSO READ: Nepal Conducts Month-Long Cleaning Campaign to Convert Mount Everest Trash into Treasure

Speaking about their cleanup drive around Manali’s Jogini Waterfalls, Sangwan told IANS that it was relegated from a space for meditative activities to “a party place”. “Simply, the campaign is about saving waterfalls from becoming a big dump-yard. We organise regular cleaning drives and educating local communities and schools.”

Like Kwatra, Shah and several other community-oriented change-makers, Sangwan too stresses the importance of a collective change that takes birth within people’s hearts and shows in their actions. “It is really about exploring spaces with empathy, and sense of preservation and sustainability,” he strongly believes. (IANS)

Next Story

Hurricane: Development of Beachfront areas Not Safe in US

US Beach Building Persists Despite Nature’s Grip

FILE - Homes severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy are seen along the beach in Mantoloking, N.J., April 25, 2013. Mantoloking and Ocean City, N.J., planned to go to court to seize control of narrow strips of beachfront land from property owners blocking a desperately needed protective dune system along New Jersey's 127-mile coast. (VOA)

When a hurricane comes ashore, few images are more iconic than a million-dollar beach house collapsing into the sea.

Undermined by the ferocity of water, shifting sands and sometimes bad construction, waterfront development takes a beating each time a powerful storm barrels into the Eastern Seaboard.

So why do people keep building on the beach?

“Development of beachfront areas is controversial,” writes Florence Duarte of Georgia State University in the report Responsible Beachfront Development. “On one side, a growing human population demands the use of such areas for recreation and work. On the other, environmentalists and biologists hope to preserve these habitats.”

Sandbags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C., Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (VOA)

A balance

The balance between the human desire to work and play on the water — and developing the waterfront responsibly — often is tested during hurricane and storm season. Despite increased intensity and frequency of storms, rising sea levels and other weather catastrophes, the beach remains the most desirable of destinations: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than half the U.S. population lives along a coast, and 180 million people visit each year.

Housing and rental prices along East Coast beaches in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York’s Long Island and Cape Cod in Massachusetts exceed the national average because of the views, fresh air and access to water activities. The point of sitting for hours in traffic on a hot, summer Friday is to get away from developed, urban, asphalt centers for the weekend.

Development tapped out

But many resort destinations are reaching maximum development.

In Ocean City, Maryland, a 14-kilometer-long barrier island that is home to about 7,000 permanent residents in the off-season, swells to more than 300,000 vacationers in the summer and on holidays.

“The development has pretty much tapped out,” said J.D. Wells, a Realtor and lifelong Ocean City resident. “The oceanfront is completely developed. Any new construction being done is replacing a tear-down that was already there.”

Properties that sit along the waterfront or have a view of the ocean can fetch more than double equivalent properties inland, Wells said.

FILE – People walk along a beach near damaged beachfront homes, March 11, 2018, in Marshfield, Mass. The Northeast is bracing for its third nor’easter in fewer than two weeks. (VOA)

Views and taxes

Towns and cities collect substantial tax revenue from those waterfront and water-view properties, sometimes charging homeowners tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes for the luxury of owning beachfront property. In many areas that have seasonal ebbs and flows, tax revenue from those properties can fill municipal coffers that benefit permanent residents, many of whom cannot afford the waterfront prices of seasonal residents.

“Over the past few decades, society’s wealth, attitude and desires have shifted and floodplains are now being developed in more upscale ways,” said Andy Coburn, associate director for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

“We can’t overlook the demand for coastal land, no matter how vulnerable or risky,” he added.

To protect beachfront properties, some towns have pushed back on nature by replacing sand stolen by storms. And while beach replenishment is expensive — Virginia Beach, Virginia, set aside $10 million for six years of sand replenishment — it is not permanent. The ocean is supposed to pound away at the beach, dragging it back out to sea.

In New Jersey, the state earmarked $1.2 billion for projects that reduce hurricane and storm damage, manage coastal storm risk and replenish the beaches that generate nearly half of the state’s $45.4 billion in annual tourism dollars.

FILE – The remnants of a home leveled by Hurricane Matthew sit along the beachfront as Chief of Police George Brothers talks on the radio after Hurricane Matthew hit Edisto Beach, S.C., Oct. 8, 2016. (VOA)

Building codes for new construction require windows and doors that can withstand high winds and hold back flooding. Wells explained that seawalls and sand dunes are erected as barriers. But nature is mighty.

Powerful even on a normal day, the Atlantic Ocean, when combined with the energy of an extreme storm, can cut through solid land. Residents of Ocean City, Maryland, wandered out after a storm in 1933 to find that a 15-meter wide, 2.5-meter-deep inlet had been sliced into the south end of their barrier island, opening a convenient channel for fishing and pleasure craft between the ocean and the bay.

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Likewise, the ocean created an inlet in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, while snatching vintage, brown-shingled cottages into the sea in 2009, according to the Boston Globe newspaper.

“A compromise needs to be found that is responsible to both demands. Rational, sustainable usage of these areas is possible if people are willing to spend time and money in planning,” Duarte wrote.

“Bounded by water, coastal and waterfront communities are challenged to make the best use of limited land while protecting critical natural resources from the potentially damaging effects of growth,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its SmartGrowth report. “These communities must consider a common set of overarching issues when managing growth and development.” (VOA)