Engaging in a long-term on-ground outreach and communication process to visibilize climate change impacts on human habitability in the Lakshadweep Archipelago
Team members : Kevin B George, Malvika Tewari, Somesh S Menon, Rajeswari BT, Al Badush, Stella James
Project timeline: 2018-Ongoing
Since 2019, the NCF outreach team has been involved in setting up a systematic, long-term communication process to challenge entrenched attitudes of climate blindness in the Lakshadweep Islands while working directly with community members.
Despite being a major driver of rapid environmental degradation, climate change remains a nebulous agent at local levels, because it is not always possible to differentiate between inherent climate variability and climate change-driven events.
As a result, while the Lakshadweep island communities are clearly experiencing and recognizing recent climatic fluctuations, there is little understanding of the causes of the changes rapidly unfolding around them. Nor do local community members believe they have any agency or responsibility in these changes.
We recognize that building community resilience to a global phenomenon like climate change requires a sustained dialogue with relevant stake-holders, society members and decision makers, and a comprehensive outreach strategy to spread awareness.
Our physical community engagement work primarily revolves around the direct collection of perception information from islanders, and the conducting of activities focussed on understanding and gradually changing prevalent knowledge and attitudes towards climate change among individuals and institutions in Lakshadweep. These activities rely on concentrated engagement as a means of initiating desirable changes in community behaviours over the long term, particularly among the most influential segments of Lakshadweep society. These include the administration and government staff, youth group members, fisherfolk, educational institutions and women collectives (apart from other prominent citizens in civil society).
Ultimately, NCF’s physical outreach goal remains to foster effective community action towards preserving local biodiversity by creating a shared understanding of how climate change events, coupled with currently unsustainable livelihood practices, are threatening human survival in the islands.
Through direct physical outreach, our main objectives are:
to inculcate knowledge and pride towards local biodiversity across all the ten inhabited islands of Lakshadweep
create a shared understanding and acknowledgement of the threats to island survival
develop potential pathways for the community to build resilience to climate change threats
enable islanders to recognize the agency they hold in ensuring continued habitability of the archipelago
To achieve our stated objectives, we have undertaken a variety of physical outreach activities since January 2019 as briefly listed below:
January 2019: NCF organized a detailed two-hour long presentation meeting in Kavaratti to inform about the threats of climate change and overfishing to 25 Panchayat members and Fisheries Department representatives of all islands.
January – April 2019: NCF conducted broad-based qualitative interview surveys with 17 islanders across some of the most important representative groups – 10 fishermen across Kavaratti and Agatti, 3 Teachers in Kavaratti, 3 Administration Staff in Kavaratti and 1 Youth Club Member in Kavaratti – to gauge the current knowledge levels about local biodiversity, perceived livelihood threats and general aspirations/concerns of the island populace.
February 2019: NCF conducted 15 fishermen interviews and organized a meeting with Panchayat members and 30 fishermen as part of review, reassessment and planned expansion of an existing NCF initiative focused on protecting spawning aggregations in Bitra Island.
December 2019: As part of an event held to commemorate visiting doctors for the ‘Breast Cancer Screening Program 2019’ organized by Thanal Charitable Organization, Lakshadweep’s largest local NGO, and Dweepashree Kavaratti, NCF was invited to introduce its work and propose future collaborations with community organizations.
January 2020: NCF screened the popular BBC documentary, ‘Blue Planet’, in collaboration with the Village Dweep Panchayat and the Government Junior Basic School of Bitra Island, as a way of acquainting islanders with the diversity of marine life existing in the seas around them as well as to introduce NCF’s long-term work on conserving the same. The two-hour long event saw active participation from more than 100 islanders, including numerous women and children, and was successful in initiating a deep discussion on the importance of conserving the unique marine life around Bitra and the Lakshadweep.
April 2019 – February 2020: With the objective of celebrating the biodiversity of Lakshadweep and raising awareness on the importance of local marine conservation, NCF successfully collaborated with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), Kavaratti, to organizing an exhibition and outreach programme under the title “Kadal Kathakal – Stories of the Sea”, and reached out to over 1500 islanders on Amini, Kadmat, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan, Andrott and Kalpeni islands.
April – July 2021: With Covid-19 spreading rapidly through the islands in the first few months of 2021, we coordinated with Thanal Charitable Organization, Lakshadweep’s largest NGO and one of NCF’s local outreach partners for the last two years, to understand the on-ground requirements and contribute towards alleviating the urgent medical requirements of islanders in need. In collaboration with Swasth Foundation, we were able to deliver 15 high flow oxygen concentrators to Kavaratti which were distributed across the other Lakshadweep islands by Thanal. Towards this end, we also later hosted Thanal’s executive director, Dr. Ali Azher, in Bangalore, to discuss further synergies between Thanal and NCF.
January – February 2022: NCF held meetings with and interviewed members of prominent civil society organizations, government officials and community leaders to gauge current perceptions, tap into local knowledge and explore further outreach collaborations in the near future, both on-ground and through other means. We also collaborated with the Department of Science and Technology in Lakshadweep during the Vigyan Sarvatra Pujyate Science Week celebrations in February 2022 and used one of their event platforms to introduce NCF’s overall outreach work in the Lakshadweep to ~150 school students in Kavaratti.
At this point, there is ofcourse the rather obvious question facing us and other community engagement practitioners about how to effectively get our messages across via interpersonal interactions in a post-Covid world. While we have formulated a separate online outreach strategy to even if community visits cannot, we believe even the success of those can eventually be supplemented by physical engagement processes, say by converting digital creatives into handy physical resources for real-world distribution among partner bodies, educational institutions, government departments and other interested organizations across islands as and when possible.
Funders: Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF, UT of Lakshadweep), Shri AMM Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre (MCRC), Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB, GoI)
Publications: Why Lakshadweep is an archipelago in climate crisis, Livemint.