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Spread of life threatening ‘superbugs’ haunts Ganges river

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superbug and ganges pilgrimage

Experts reveal the spread of antibiotic-resistance to one of the most pristine locations in Asia is linked to the annual human pilgrimages to the region. The research team are now calling on governments around the world to recognize the importance of clean drinking water in our fight against antibiotic resistance.

The spread of antibiotic-resistance to one of the most pristine locations in Asia is linked to the annual human pilgrimages to the region, new research has shown.

Experts from Newcastle University, UK, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi (IIT-Delhi), sampled water and sediments at seven sites along the Upper Ganges River, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

They found that in May and June, when hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to Rishikesh and Haridwar to visit sacred sites, levels of resistance genes that lead to “superbugs” were found to be about 60 times greater than other times of the year.

Publishing their findings today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the team say it is important to protect people visiting and living at these sites while also making sure nothing interferes with these important religious practices.

They argue that preventing the spread of resistance genes that promote life-threating bacteria could be achieved by improving waste management at key pilgrimage sites.

“This isn’t a local problem – it’s a global one,” explains Professor David Graham, an environmental engineer based at Newcastle University who has spent over ten years studying the environmental transmission of antibiotic resistance around the world.

“We studied pilgrimage areas because we suspected such locations would provide new information about resistance transmission via the environment. And it has – temporary visitors from outside the region overload local waste handling systems, which seasonally reduces water quality at the normally pristine sites.

“The specific resistance gene we studied, called blaNDM-1, causes extreme multi-resistance in many bacteria, therefore we must understand how this gene spreads in the environment.

“If we can stem the spread of such antibiotic resistant genes locally – possibly through improved sanitation and waste treatment – we have a better chance of limiting their spread on larger scales, creating global solutions by solving local problems.”

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the aim of the research was to understand how antibiotic resistance was transmitted due to a specific human activity. Local “hot-spots” of antibiotic resistance exist around the world, particularly densely-populated regions with inconsistent sanitation and poor water quality.

By comparing water quality of the Upper Ganges in February and again in June, the team showed that levels of blaNDM-1 were 20 times higher per capita during the pilgrimage season than at other times.
Monitoring levels of other contaminants in the water, the team showed that overloading of waste treatment facilities was likely to blame and that in many cases, untreated sewage was going straight into the river where the pilgrims bathe.

“The bugs and their genes are carried in people’s guts,” explains Professor Graham. “If untreated wastes get into the water supply, resistance potential in the wastes can pass to the next person and spiralling increases in resistance can occur.”
Concern over the spread of Antibiotic-Resistant (AR) genes

Worldwide, concern is growing over the threat from bacteria that are resistant to the so-called “last resort” class of antibiotics known as Carbapenems, especially if resistance is acquired by aggressive pathogens.

Of particular concern is NDM-1, which is a protein that confers resistance in a range of bacteria. NDM-1 was first identified in New Delhi and coded by the resistant gene blaNDM-1.

Until recently, strains that carry blaNDM-1 were only found in clinical settings, but in 2008, blaNDM-1 positive strains were found in surface waters in Delhi. Since then, blaNDM-1 has been found elsewhere in the world, including new variants.

There are currently few antibiotics to combat bacteria that are resistant to Carbapenems and worldwide spread of blaNDM-1 is a growing concern.

Professor Graham, who is based in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, UK, said the team had planned to repeat their experiments last year, but the region was hit by massive floods in June and the experiments were abandoned.

The team has since returned to Rishikesh and Haridwar and hope their work will prompt public action to improve local sanitation, protecting these socially important sites. On a global scale, they want policymakers to recognise the importance of clean drinking water in our fight against antibiotic resistance.

“What humans have done by excess use of antibiotics is accelerate the rate of evolution, creating a world of resistant strains that never existed before” explains Graham.

“Through the overuse of antibiotics, contamination of drinking water and other factors, we have exponentially speeded-up the rate at which superbugs might develop.

“For example, when a new drug is developed, natural bacteria can rapidly adapt and become resistant; therefore very few new drugs are in the pipeline because it simply isn’t cost-effective to make them.

“The only way we are going to win this fight is to understand all of the pathways that lead to antibiotic resistance. Clearly, improved antibiotic stewardship in medicine and agriculture is crucial, but understanding how resistance transmission occurs through our water supplies is also critical. We contend that improved waste management and water quality on a global scale is a key step.”

Information Source: Newcastle University, UK/ Journal of Environmental Science and Technology
Photo Credit: John Stanmeyer, VII/National Geographic

Environment

After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.

Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.  

In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.

“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.

The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling. 

Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.

“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.

Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.

It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter. 

The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.

“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.

It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights. 

The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state.  It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.

The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival. 

“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.  

The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.

“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.

The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations. 

Signatories

  • Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
  • Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
  • Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
  • Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
  • Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
  • Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
  • Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
  • Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
  • Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
  • Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
  • Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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