As the physician associates the patient with his own cure, so must the planner appeal to the citizen
Patrick Geddes, 1915
CEDAR and Radio Khushi 90.4 FM have embarked on a four-month radio-series on natural resource management with special emphasis on water security in Uttarakhand. The aim is simple, communicate with local people, give them a platform to voice their concerns and together find locally appropriate solutions.
As CEDAR’s Executive Director Dr Rajesh Thadani once said: “Knowledge limited to academic publication is of limited relevance”. Therefore, CEDAR is striving to find new ways to communicate their research on ecosystem services to the people who use them. Local radio presents an exciting new opportunity for CEDAR to reach out to people who may not use social media. As Dr Singh said “radio will allow us to reach the last corner of the village. These people are at the core of the community and need to have their questions and voices heard”. Furthermore, Dr Singh made the important point that those who are most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change are often those who are least connected through modern technology and least able to get their voices heard.
Radio Khushi is a community radio station which uses interactive media to connect, educate and inspire people. A partnership with CEDAR will allow the station to explore socio-environmental issues using CEDAR’s expertise, hear listener’s views and galvanise action. This partnership is being facilitated by Ideosync Media Combine (IMC). IMC aims to use media to accelerate communication and behavioural change for the social, economic and environmental development of communities. This harmonises with CEDAR’s belief in the importance of citizen science in socio-environmental research, only through stakeholder participation can issue be understood and appropriate solutions are found. It is the ‘tyranny of the expert’ which frequently hinders development because when local knowledge is excluded the proposed solutions are unlikely to be locally sustainable.
Together CEDAR, Radio Khushi and ICM have developed a radio-series strategy. An overarching theme of ‘natural resource management’ was settled and issues of water security in small and medium towns in the Himalayan region to be of prime focus. One important point agreed by all partners was the importance of female participation. While women can be some of the strongest activists on social and environmental issues, they are too often left out of decision making. It was agreed that the radio-series would cover the geographical area of Uttarakhand but focus on the regions where CEDAR has the expertise, case study examples and success stories. These include CEDAR’s work climate change adaptation, urbanization and water security.
The first live show was aired Thursday 11th October 2018 and was a great success with Dr Vishal Singh (CEDAR’s Deputy Executive Director) being interviewed by RJ Ashish (Radio Khushi’s Jockey). The programme started by introducing CEDAR as an organisation which focuses on research and research use. CEDAR was founded on the realisation that there is a gap between academics, grassroots workers and planning practitioners, CEDAR aims to bridge this gap through their multi-disciplinary approach. Dr Singh pointed out that many of the NGOs working in the region on socio-environmental issues work in isolation and there is an urgent need for more cross-disciplinary research and collective action. He asserted that citizens play a crucial part in the process, local knowledge is rich and often untapped by ‘scientific experts’. Dr Singh gave a very good example of the importance of traditional knowledge and loss if it is ignored. He explained that there is only one person left in the Kumaon region who knows how to make Naulas, a traditional surface-water harvesting method typical to the hill areas of Uttarakhand. He lamented how good traditional methods have been forgotten and how the adoption of new technology has often led to environmental degradation.
The show also discussed CEDAR specific work. Dr Singh described how CEDAR focuses on the themes of forestry, urbanisation and water biodiversity and wildlife. Regarding water security Cedar is examining how population rise, unplanned development, climate change and tourism are contributing to water insecurity in towns of Himalaya alongside environmental degradation and climate change. RJ Ashish picked up on the climate change theme and described how residents in Mussoorie were noticing the early flowering of the Rhododendrons, delayed monsoon and declining winter rainfall. This is a key example of citizens being able to observe and record change over time. Dr Singh confirmed these observations and asserted that they are a serious concern.
A key point leading on from this discussion was that the rapid drying up of springs and depleting lake levels are a serious problem. Dr Singh said, “springs and lakes are shared resources shared resource to reap the benefits from, but nobody wants to conserve it”. This is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. Collective conservation and sustainable use are needed urgently. However, it is easy to use buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘collective active’ but the real questions are how is this achieved and by whom? Perhaps this radio series can be a step towards finding answers to these questions as researchers collaborate with listeners.
It was at this point that a listener phoned in with an excellent question, “if there are so many NGOs working in this area why is there no output?” This question exemplifies the gap between research and the local people. Dr Singh explained that it is not that the work is not being done but that the output is not in the public domain or even when it is, it is not accessible. The accessibility of knowledge is as important as producing that knowledge in the first place.
This led onto a second good question from a listener, they said “to achieve anything citizen support is needed. But Bringing people of different opinions together becomes a challenge. How do you manage it?” Dr Singh explained how this is always a big challenge for CEDAR, for sustainable solutions to be found and successfully implemented policymakers, experts, activists and other stakeholders must all be brought together. However, even when a platform is provided it can be difficult to encourage stakeholders to come. Therefore, research NGOs must strive to make their research accessible. But equally, stakeholders must engage and share their ideas.
Dr Vishal Singh offered a great example of mass stakeholder engagement. In Nainital, the lake is being degraded and a meeting was held with the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand and the people of Nainital. CEDAR laid out their out their research on how the encroachment of Sukhatal lake is disturbing Naini lake level and a decision was made to rectify the problem. “It started with people, it was taken forward by people and then the people helped in the decision-making process of the government” (Dr Singh). The most iconic symbol of this success story was the over 1000 people who undertook a bare-foot silent march around the lake to raise awareness for its degradation and the need for conservation. This is a powerful example of how many people with different opinions can be brought together to create change.
Overall the radio show emphasised that technocratic solutions will only go so far and citizen participation is crucial. This initiative aims to disseminate CEDAR’s research in an accessible form, reach all corners of the community and bring everyone into the discussion. If you want to hear CEDAR researchers talk more about their research and address interesting questions from listeners across Uttarakhand, tune in every Thursday at 90.4FM.