The havoc unleashed by climate change and extreme weather events such an droughts, cyclones, tsunamis, floods or forest fires have been captured on celluloid. But what about community initiatives to cope with this loss and damage suffered and build resilience against such events in the future. These seldom grab the headlines, despite being powerful stories from the ground that need to be told.

Policy research institute and think tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has done just that. It has picked districts from the five most vulnerable states — Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand — and documented 16 stories of the action being taken by communities on the ground to cope with the after-effects of extreme climate events,

Mainstreaming issues

Milan George Jacob, creative director of the ‘Face of Climate Resilience’ documentary series, explains that the project is an extension of the ongoing climate risks research that CEEW is carrying out. “We felt this was the best way of mainstreaming the issues.”

Odisha cyclones

For instance, a documentary from Odisha portrays how women self-help groups are replanting casuarina saplings along the coastline. This casuarina forest would act as a buffer against cyclonic storms and seawater intrusion. In the documentary Bengalata Rout recalls the tranquillity of her village, Tandahara, where she came as a young bride, and then describes the catastrophe that hit the community leaving 10,000 dead.

“The cyclone of 1999 was the worst. It uprooted many of our trees. Yet, those trees bore the brunt of the cyclone and helped our village survive the catastrophe,” she says. It is believed that the casuarina saved the area from further damage and will do so again in the future. In fact, CEEW research says that Puri district recorded a four-fold increase in extreme flooding and a three-fold increase in frequency of extreme cyclones since 2000.

Kerala floods

Similarly, a documentary from Kerala looks at the havoc caused by 2018 floods in Cheruthoni through the eyes of Nazer, an auto driver. He narrates the damage to his livelihood as critical infrastructure was severely impacted, including roads and the main bridge connecting the two ends of the town. He describes how Cheruthoni is now rebuilding and climate-proofing its infrastructure. 

Forest fires

Other stories from the series deal with equally compelling situations, including how Mumbai’s Koli fishing community is coping with the climate crisis, and how women from Sitlakhet in Uttarakhand are fighting forest fires. “We found anecdotal examples about how what used to happen once in twenty years was now occurring twice a year,” says Jacob.

The series will soon hit the road and be shown in several cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore this month. It will also hopefully make it to the COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. And most important, help in the much-needed action of driving policy in the right direction.

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