In Jharia, in the federal state of Jharkhand, around 600,000 people live in the middle of one of India’s biggest coal mining areas. There’s nothing in it for most of them. Quite the opposite: the soil, the water and the air are now contaminated, of all things in an area that was previously rich in woodland.
The story of Jharia is the story of how the greed for profit, vested interests and the thirst for power have prevailed and led to one of the areas richest in minerals in India remaining so economically backward. For the mining marginalises the poor and deepens social inequality in the name of economic development, from which mostly only metropolises like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai profit.
Shortly after 1971, the coal mines were nationalized. Since then, their operator is the BCCL (Bharat Coking Coal Limited) which thus controls one of the biggest coal deposits in India and one of the biggest in the whole of Asia. BCCL conducts mainly opencast mining. Mostly illegally, since in 97 percent of the cases no license has been granted. Opencast mining is more profitable than deep mining. The productivity and extracted quantities are significantly higher than in deep mining and cost less. In Jharia, coal is mined in the villages, next to the houses, in short, on people’s doorsteps. Even on the streets, on railway lines, in the station itself, which is not a station any more, coal is mined.
Really, the mined area should be filled with sand and water afterwards, so it can be cultivated again. For cost reasons, however, this never happens, which leads to the coal seams coming into contact with oxygen and catching fire. India has the most coal blazes worldwide. BCCL representatives estimate there are 67 fires in Jharia alone.
The opencast mining areas are densely populated. Forty percent of Jharia’s inhabitants live in the burning, fire spewing countryside. The ground is subsiding, houses are collapsing. In addition, the smoke and vapours contain poisons, amongst others carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but also soot, methane and arsenic. The damage to health is enormous. Lung and skin diseases, cancer and stomach disorders are only some of the illnesses with which the people in Jharia have to fight with.
The blazes are in fact controllable, contrary to the BCCL representatives’ opinion. They could be extinguished with the application of water, clay and sand. But nothing happens. Because there is no political interest in extinguishing these blazes at all. Rather, it is in the operator’s interest that even more land catches fire - and thus becomes uninhabitable. BCCL needs still more land on which coal can be mined in order to achieve the extracted quantities planned for the current and coming business years. And underneath Jharia lie more than 1,000 million tons of coal.
The interests and influence of the operator are too strong, so the mines stay and the mining will still be carried on. In addition, the Mafia has the area around Jharia firmly in its hands and makes a not inconsiderable profit through blackmail, bribery and other criminal activities.
Instead of doing something against the fires, one of the biggest resettlement plans worldwide is to be carried out: Jharia Action Plan (JAP). The inhabitants of the areas on fire are supposed to be resettled in Belgaria, a new town in the middle of the jungle. There is no school there, no medical care, no shops, and, worst of all, no jobs at all. So many decide to stay in Jharia. On the fire. In spite of the blazes. In spite of the perpetual grey veil that lies over the town. In spite of the air pollution, which makes breathing almost impossible on a bad day. And in spite of the coal dust, which settles like a second skin on the body.
Click here to view the Coalfields of Jharia slide show.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jake Johnson
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By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday details the "shocking" state of global land equality, saying the problem is worse than thought, rising, and "cannot be ignored."
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