Centuries-old Living Root Bridges Of Meghalaya Hit By Water Scarcity | Dehradun News

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DEHRADUN: An analysis of two living root bridges (LRBs) — pedestrian bridges made of the roots of ficus-based living trees — by researchers from the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehradun has revealed, strangely, that the soil in which they grow lacks moisture and nutrients. This is despite their presence in Meghalaya, which has India’s wettest place, Mawsynram.
According to FRI researchers, broom grass farming, harvesting and stubble burning over the years may have led to water scarcity. “The living root bridges are still healthy. But, water scarcity must be addressed and there should be a greater focus on soil conservation, especially for LRBs alongside seasonal river banks; those on perennial river banks are fine,” said Dr Amit Pandey from Forest Research Institute, Dehradun.
FRI analysis comes after an inspection, last December, by a team of India’s top scientists, drawn from institutions like the Botanical Survey of India, Geological Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India. The team was invited by the Meghalaya Basin Management Agency to “conduct a preliminary health assessment of the LRBs and offer technical advice”.
Its members examined three LRBs — Wah Sohot, Wah Umlyngoh and Wah Thyllong — located in dense sub-tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion of Pynursla in East Khasi hills.
The Living Root Bridge Cultural Landscapes (LRBCL) are now included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are about 72 LRBCL villages in the state.
“These ficus-based structures have withstood extreme weather conditions for centuries and represent a profound human-environment symbiotic relationship. Special care is needed to preserve them,” said an expert.
“The changing climate, topography and population of Meghalaya has an adverse effect on LRBs,” the expert added. The state’s population increased from 1.8 million in 1991 to around 3 million in 2011.
Developed by the ancestors of indigenous Khasi tribes, these LRBs are locally known as ‘Jingkieng Jri’. It helps more than 70 remote villages to stay connected.
The state had released draft guidelines for protection of LRB ecosystems in April 2018 after consulting scientists, conservation experts and policy-makers.
Subsequently, as part of a Meghalaya government initiative, a community-led conservation, research and development initiative was started and this has been at the heart of discussion and policy initiatives.
According to details shared by the Meghalaya Basin Management Agency, “The first step in this participatory journey was open community sensitization dialogues, which created a learning reference for all stakeholders, namely indigenous communities who are the primary caretakers of these sites, government officials, and professionals (scientists, conservators, entrepreneurs).The primary focus has been to retain the authenticity, integrity and indigenous characteristic of these LRBs…linking traditional wisdom with contemporary science.” Currently, 24 LRB cooperatives have been registered within a state-level federation involving 44 villages.
The agency added, “Recommendations by FRI scientists have been submitted to the indigenous communities. As part of ongoing conservation work, these sites are being nurtured as protected forest, allowing nature to self heal. This is an important conservation step for all LRB sites.”

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