Volunteers scripting tale of Heirok-Wangjing River's revival
Source: Chronicle News Service / Ngangom Suraj

Imphal, September 29 2023: The Heirok-Wangjing River in Thoubal district is a rain-fed river originating from Bomi Lok/Lokchao/Khoipu Lok in the hills of Tengnoupal district and ending at Ikop Pat (lake).

The river nestled in a region plagued by scanty rainfall is today facing dire threat due to relentless mining for minor minerals.

Over the years, the combination of these environmental challenges has gradually led to the drying up of this once-thriving waterway.

To make matter worst, local communities have resorted to dumping garbage into the river, causing widespread pollution.

The plight of Heirok-Wangjing River paints a grim picture of environmental degradation, one that needs immediate action.

Amidst these alarming circumstances, a ray of hope has emerged in the form of Eco Network, a dedicated group of volunteers from Heirok village determined to save the river from impending doom.

These passionate individuals have made it their mission to clean and conserve the Heirok-Wangjing River.

Their commitment to this noble cause shines as a symbol of environmental consciousness in the community.

Through their tireless efforts, they aim to reverse the damage done to the river and ensure its rejuvenation for future generations.

By protecting and restoring our rivers, we, play a critical role in bending the biodiversity curve.

Rivers and the waters and nutrients they carry feed forests, wetlands and other terrestrial habitats, and are home to more than 100,000 freshwater species, according to WWF.

The story of the Heirok-Wangjing River serves as a reminder of the balance that needs to be maintained between human activities and environment.

As volunteers from the Eco Network tirelessly work to undo the harm caused by pollution and depletion, they inspire us all to take a more active role in protecting our natural resources.

Their dedication reminds us that even in the face of difficulties, grassroots efforts can make a considerable difference in conserving precious ecosystems and preserving the vitality of our rivers and waterways.

Laishram Sintha, who is leading the group, said that the Heirok-Wangjing River has been a source of drinking water, irrigation and livelihood for the people of Heirok Part 3 Champra Thong, Heirok Part 2 Maning Leikai and Heirok Part 1 Maning Leikai in Thoubal district since time immemorial.

However, in the past few years, due to scanty rainfall, deforestation in its catchment areas and excess mining of minor minerals from the river bed and dumping of garbage have resulted in drying up of the river and pollution, Shintha said.

Recalling that the river used to maintain its flow even during the dry season and its furiousness that can swept away even concrete bridges during monsoon, Shintha said that at present the river runs of out of water in just few days even after heavy rainfall for many days.

As the health of the river continues to deteriorate, the livelihood of many people have been affected while many others have contracted skin diseases after using its water and many aquatic plant and animal species vanished.

Considering the importance of the river, a handful of like-mined youths decided to act to safe the river by removing garbage from its river bed and planting trees, Shintha said.

Initially the locals used to doubt the action of the youths but as their efforts began to show result more people started joining the group voluntarily, he said.

With a sense of excitement, he informed that many small fish species that had vanished years ago due to poor water quality have now returned with hundreds of kilograms of garbage that had clogged portions of the river now removed.

He also pointed out the difficulties they faced due to shortage of fund, manpower, machinery and resource for recycling.

With the help of Lion Clubs and authorities concerned such as Manipur Pollution Control Board, Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, the volunteers of Eco Network have initiated several measures to restore the health of the river by organising cleanliness drive, awareness campaigns and tree plantation drive.

However, due to lack of adequate funding, manpower and machinery, the vision of resurrecting the river to its original form is still a long way to go.

When contacted, Manipur University Department of Geography head professor Pradip Kumar said that climate change is very much a natural global phenomenon but human activities are only accelerating the process.

He said that drying up of rivers might not be direct impact of climate change or climate variability yet it will definitely have impact in many other ways as rivers play an important role in maintaining temperature of a region, health of vegetation especially in the catchment areas and ecological balance of an ecosystem.

Explaining the role of forest in maintaining good health of a river, professor Pradip said that during rainfall/monsoon vegetation in catchment areas help in slowing down the flow of water thereby giving enough time for the soil to absorb excess water and maintain flow of water throughout the year.

Though the Heirok-Wangjing is a rain fed river, it used to retain water even in dry or winter seasons, he recalled, adding that, it's drying up is a clear indication that there is very poor vegetation in its catchment areas.

Professor Pradip suggested that the river can be revived to its original form by taking up large scale afforestation in the catchment areas.

However, as afforestation will fructify only after at least 30 or more years, short term initiatives like construction of check dams to allow the river to retain water and maintain its flow at a certain level at the same time should be considered, he suggested.

(This report has been filed under the 4th Media Fellowship Programme on Climate Change Reporting under the sponsorship of Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, government of Manipur ) .

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