From waste wood to firewood
Trees uprooted by Amphan in Kolkata that cannot be restored can instead be repurposed to serve as firewood or as raw material for small scale industries
An extremely severe cyclone Aamphan roared into and pounded the city of Kolkata, striking with a wind speed of around 130km/h, on May 20, 2020 night and continued its devastating spell for three to four hours at a stretch. The severity of the impact was such that life practically came to a standstill leaving behind the city with an appalling and tormenting facade. The ravages were immense and the severity of the cyclone was such that it uprooted more than 15,600 trees in the city of Kolkata. Even the iconic grand old banyan tree of the Botanical Garden was not spared the fury of nature. It also suffered quite significant damages. Uprooted trees, broken branches, broken electric posts were the shocking pictures common to every nook and corner of the city. Such destruction on a massive scale has put the city administration on tenterhooks.
Immediately after the rampage of the cyclone, Kolkata Municipal Corporation swung into action. The immediate plan of action was to count the number of uprooted trees and to ascertain how many of those can be replanted back. For the remaining trees, the wood was cut and so that the timber can be put for auction. It was reported that some of the ill-fated trees were Mahogany and Sesham as well.
Such a massive uprooting of trees casts a dark spell on biodiversity. Kolkata is already troubled with its dwindling green cover. According to an article in Times of India, the India State of Forest Report 2019 claims that the green cover in non-forest areas in West Bengal had declined by 6.1 per cent from 2,136 sq km in 2017 to 2,006 sq km. Such a massive loss of green has a severe impact on biodiversity. The loss of trees also reduces the capacity of our carbon sink and adds to the pollution woes.
The uprooting of trees is not an uncommon happenstance in this city. Every cyclone hitting this city stamps its presence with the uprooting of trees. The only difference this time is its extreme severity and the huge number of uprooted trees. Environmental activists and concerned citizens are suggesting immediate massive scale tree plantation drive as a remedial measure for the lost green cover, but the need of the hour is to do the root cause analysis for the massive uprooting of trees. It should be noted that it was not just the wind strength that uprooted the majority of trees but poor planning over the years about what and how to plant. Basic ecological knowledge recognises that primarily from the selection of plants to maintenance, watering and proper grooming depending on the condition of soil and availability of nutrients so that the plants can sustain their roots deep into the soil. The depth of the water table is also a selection criterion of the plants. Here in Kolkata, the water table is not very low, so the roots of the plants need not penetrate deep, thereby the anchoring is not strong enough to withstand the lashing of the gusty winds during cyclones. So in order to counter or reduce the shearing force of the gusty wind, the expanse of the trees should be less. Selection of plants should be done accordingly. Moreover, the trees which are having wide canopy cover should be trimmed regularly. The trimmed branches can be shredded and can be used as firewood in smokeless 'chuhlas' which the roadside vendors can use. This will have a double benefit. The first being an answer to the unexpected hassles of dealing with the uprooted trees and secondly, it can serve the firewood requirement for the vendors who can save a little more of their earnings. Not only that, but it will also open up opportunities for small scale industries for wood shredding and manufacture of smokeless 'chuhlas'.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at Vijaygarh Jyotish Ray College, Kolkata. Views expressed are personal