Here’s what to do if you’re ever hit by an avalanche. Tip No 1: Swim

Here's what to do if you're ever hit by an avalanche. Tip No 1: Swim9.6K
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The discovery of a soldier still alive six days after being caught in an avalanche on the Siachen glacier is nothing short of a miracle and seasoned mountaineers agree to this. A rescue team found Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad under a block of ice on February 8, where he had been trapped since the accident on February 3. Koppad was part of a 10-member team of soldiers caught in an ice fall at 19,600 feet above sea level.

There’s little you can do when you’re in an avalanche, said Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury, vice president of the Indian Mountaineering Federation, who has also had the frightening experience. Your body is rolling in all directions and you may not know which way is up and what is down. When the mayhem of the falling ice or snow ends there are four factors that determine survival – access to air, whether a victim’s airway is clear, how badly she has been injured in the fall and time.

Anil Gutroo, professor of medicine at Lady Hardinge Medical College explains why finding Koppad alive was so unexpected. “There is a 90% survival chance if you are found in 15 minutes. If you are buried for 90 minutes the survival chance falls to 20%,” said Gutroo, who survived an avalanche at Siachen nine years ago. Gutroo and two others were hit by a snow avalanche and he was buried in the snow for hardly five minutes before member of the Indian Army who were in the vicinity dig them out. Even though being caught in a slide of snow is less damaging than being hit by blocks of ice Gutroo had severe injuries –broken ribs, an injured back and wounds on his head that needed at least 20 stitches.

Here are some that Gutroo and Chowdhury recommend to increase your chances of surviving an avalanche.

Swim: Mountain climbers in avalanche prone regions are often told to try to “swim” in the snow. The thrashing motion of swimming helped a climber on Mont Blanc in Italy ride an avalanche for about 700 meters till it came to a stop.

Create an air pocket: After the avalanche the immediate problem is for a person buried in in the snow to find air. “After the avalanche settles, because it is cold an often below zero degree Celsius, snow freezes very quickly. What was fluid quickly becomes solid,” said Chowdhury. “What you must do is to draw your hands out in such a way that you quickly make a gap around you head and keep as much of air around you as possible till someone can dig you out.”

Protection from wind and cold: Up at the high altitudes where avalanches occur, cold is a big killer. But the avalanche-experienced know that being buried under snow and ice offers automatic insulation from the cold. If you are in a position to breathe easily and otherwise safe, stay protected from the wind.

Conserve energy: It’s going to be hard to tell how long you might be stuck on a snowy mountain. One of the smartest things you can do is to conserve you energy by remaining calm and not exerting yourself. “Without food and water, you can survive for seven days to a two weeks,” said Gutroo. “When temperature falls and there is hypothermia, the body’s metabolism slows and conserves energy. A cardiac arrest patient who has been buried in an avalanche has a better chance of being revived of he has survived, because cold preserves and sows down the metabolism and oxygen uptake. With slower metabolism the body can recover.”

If you see light, dig your way out: Having said that though, here’s a tip to figure out how deep you may be buried. “If you are under more than a meter of snow, then here won’t be any light. You may not even know which side is up,” said Chowdhury. “But if you are on a slope and you can actually see some light, then it’s worth trying to dig yourself out.”


The blockade is over but Nepal’s young Madhesis are determined to keep their agitation alive

The blockade is over but Nepal's young  Madhesis are determined to keep their agitation alivePhoto Credit: Anumeha Yadav
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Madhesi protestors have lifted the four-month blockade of the India-Nepal open international border at Birgunj. On February 5, the first trucks rolled across the Maitreyi bridge, which connects Raxaul in Bihar’s East Champaran to Birgunj in Nepal, just 150 km away from the capital Kathmandu.

The agitation began in September, shortly after Nepal’s parliament ratified the country’s new Constitution, as reported earlier in this series. The Madhesis – a term for several communities living in Nepal’s central and eastern plains who have close cultural and family ties to India – fear that the new statute will perpetuate the discrimination they have long faced. Kathmandu, however, accused India of imposing an unofficial blockade on the landlocked country, a charge denied by New Delhi.

The agitation caused an enormous shortage of fuel and essential goods in Nepal.

Since last weekend, the tents and bamboo poles blocking the Maitreyi bridge, the most visible symbols of the protest, have disappeared. What is left is the memory of the human cost – 55 civilians and seven policemen lost their lives in the agitation – and an over-arching question: How has the turmoil shaped the views of youth in towns like Birgunj, which were at the epicenter of the protests?

State brutality

On January 15, when negotiations between a coalition of Madhes-based parties and the three major Nepali political parties were still in progress in Kathmandu, protestors had for the first time since September allowed two-wheelers onto the Maitreyi bridge.

A few kilometers away, at the clock tower on a busy crossroads at the center of Birgunj town, a large crowd thronged an exhibition of photographs chronicling the agitation.

Chandan Gupta, a 19-year old student of business administration, was in the crowd. Gupta, clad in the signature t-shirt and jacket of the young, said he had taken part in several of the protests.

“This photograph shows a man impersonating Sushil Koirala [Nepal’s prime minister from February 2014-October 2015], wearing shoes around his neck because Koirala ratified a biased Constitution,” said Gupta, as he walked along the exhibits, pausing occasionally to point out photographs of special interest.

“This next one shows Newar women, a community from the hill region, supporting the Madhesi agitation… Here, a goat is dressed as current Prime Minister KP Oli, little children are leading it… Men, women, and children had formed a 1,100 kilometer-long human chain all along the plains from east to west, but Oli called us a swarm of flies for organising it.”

Gupta’s family migrated to Birgunj 12 years ago from a village in the adjoining Bara district to set up a small hardware business. Though communities from Nepal’s hills and plains had struggled together for a democratic Constitution, the hill communities – who had greater numbers in parliament – had ratified a Constitution inimical to Madhesi interests, he claimed.

This, he said, was in line with Nepal’s history, throughout which Madhesis had been given “no rights to their civilisation” and were slightingly referred to as “Dhotis” and “Biharis”, among other pejorative terms.

Gupta, who by then had been joined by some of his classmates, recalled that last September, Nepal Armed Police had fired at protestors marching towards this same clock tower. One of his friends fished out his mobile phone to show images of bullet-ridden bodies of protestors that had been circulated on WhatsApp. “The government was sending the army here dressed as policemen,” said Chandan.

Chandan’s friend Harish believes there was an ethnic bias in how security personnel were deputed during the protests. “The government gave only sticks to Madhesi security personnel and put them on the frontline,” he claimed. “The Pahadi security personnel stood behind, and fired at Madhesi protestors with powerful guns.”

Eleven people, including children, were killed when the police fired on protestors in Birgunj.
Eleven people, including children, were killed when the police fired on protestors in Birgunj.

Social and institutional polarisation

Mainstream Nepali publications provided little ground reportage of the protests, but young Madhesis living in Kathmandu and abroad have been publishing analysis and news on independent web platforms such as Madhesi Youth.

Local FM radio stations took sides. “The media in Kathmandu was speaking the official line, and Terai’s local media became the voice of the movement,” said Suresh Bidari, a radio jockey with Narayani FM. Once the protests picked up steam, the radio station changed its format. Where once it focused on film music, it now began broadcasting interviews with protestors, farmers, and political activists through the day, he said.

Bidari, in his 20s, belongs to a community from the hilly regions; his family had moved to the Terai seven years back. Despite being a “Pahadi” he supports the Madhesi movement, though he does not agree with all of its demands.

“The Madhesis have been ruled for 250 years by people from the hills,” said Bidari. “They must be treated as equal citizens, and get full citizenship even if they have cross-border marriages.” But he did not support seemankan, the demand that provincial boundaries be redrawn.

A key demand of the alliance of Madhes-based parties is that the plains be divided into no more than two provinces. The government for its part has proposed seven provinces, drawn such that in four of five provinces in the plains, areas with large Madhesi population have been merged into hill regions. Madhesi leaders have demanded that Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts in the east be included in a contiguous Madhes province, which will have access to water from the river Kosi in the east.

Said a young professional who did not wish to be named: “What will I, as a resident of Birgunj, get if we get a Jhapa district? Instead, it would be better if they asked for a hill district so we can access hydel power.”

Such sharp differences over issues, and over the question of who participated in the agitation and who did not, have polarised younger people. “For me, the main issue is that Madhesis face discrimination,” said Aashu Saraf, a 21-year old photojournalist and undergraduate student. “I don’t support the demarcation demand and yet, since I have started speaking about the andolan actively on Facebook, my friends of several years from school and college have distanced themselves from me. I had never thought this would happen.”

Members of a band called Sanskriti jamming in a restaurant in Birgunj.
Members of a band called Sanskriti jamming in a restaurant in Birgunj.

‘At least, we will live with dignity’

In peri-urban areas and villages, where most of the young protestors came from, there is a wider acceptance of the demand for demarcation and a willingness to continue the agitation in some form.

In Barjari, near Jaleswar in Mahottari district, the protests were so intense that Neha Jha, a student of commerce in class XI, could not attend school for nearly two months. On a January afternoon, she was returning after her final exams, walking down a path that led to her house in the village. “The demarcation issue is crucial because right now, the main Madhes province is between two rivers and we have access to neither of them,” she said. “This means farmers will get no water for irrigation. What will people do then? Already, Madhesis are denied jobs in government.”

Though she had stayed at home, her family members and neighbours had taken part in the protests, and Neha has vivid memories of the chaos. “The police were coming towards this path here in their vehicles, firing from inside, and people were running, and throwing stones at them.”

She recalled how Rohan Chaudhary, a secondary school student from her neighbourhood, was fatally shot in the chest while he was returning from private tuitions. Two days later, Rohan’s grandfather Ganesh Chaudhary was shot in the head by the police when he went to the market to purchase things for Rohan’s cremation.

“The police were oppressive,” Jha said. “The andolankari set a police chowki on fire, they killed a policeman, setting him on fire – they also didn’t do the right thing.”

Jha found the violence and the political impasse exasperating. “The government will not agree to demarcation, and leaders here won’t agree to wait for more months,” she said. “If the Nepal government will not give us rights, then I think it will be alright for us to fight for a separate nation. Why fight again and again over demarcation? Even if more people die in a future agitation, at least we will live with dignity.”

The sentiment Neha Jha articulated had been already voiced ten years earlier by armed secessionist groups in the region. While the strength of these groups has ebbed over time, the demand for an independent Terai state has been raised repeatedly in recent years by Chandra Kant Raut, a computer scientist and political campaigner.

In 2014, the Nepalese government charged Raut with sedition and has arrested him twice. Last month, Raut’s acquittal was upheld by Nepal’s Supreme Court.

Secessionism as final solution?

Madhes-based parties have consistently argued that if their agitation for a separate province within Nepal fails, it will pave the way for more extreme secessionist demands, such as Raut’s.

On a visit to Delhi recently, Raut argued that the failure of Madhes-based parties this January to get the Constitution amended as per their demands proved that Nepal’s parliamentary politics was “a step in the wrong direction”.

Raut said his plan is to hold fresh elections independently in every village in the Terai, elect a constituent assembly, and form an interim Terai government. “Till we do this, and till have our own army, Madhesis will never have control over their natural resources or the economy,” he said. “First and foremost, Madhesi youth have to fight for their freedom.”

Chandrakishore Jha, a political analyst and writer who lives in Birgunj, said the demand for a separate state is not feasible, and would only invite more state repression.

However, though Raut has been actively campaigning for a free Madhes only since a couple of years, his campaign has successfully reached a wide range of youth across social classes, and spanning the political spectrum. Rajat Pandey, a 16-year old studying in boarding school in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, who was on a visit to his home in Pipra village near Janakpur, said he regularly read Raut’s Facebook page for updates, and that he backed the demand for an independent Terai state as “timely and legal.”

Chandan Gupta, the business administration student in Birgunj, said he had been deeply moved by Raut’s speech at Birgunj’s clock tower the day Raut was arrested in 2015. “Raut is a scientist and he has studied Madhesi history,” Gupta said. “He has been saying for two years that we will not get a fair Constitution, but these political parties did not pay any attention.”

He added: “Dard bhara speech hai uska (His speeches are filled with emotion). The day he was at the clock tower to deliver a speech, hundreds of policemen came to arrest him but the students would not let them take him.”

Given the sense of alienation that prevails, some young people see Raut’s strategy as an inevitable option. “Madhesis were doing a peaceful Gandhivaadi andolan, but the government heartlessly fired at them,” said Ram Lal Das, a 22-year old teacher from Duhabi panchayat in Dhausa district. “It is a cruel khaswaadi political regime. It does not consider the Madhesis its people.”

Ram Ratan Das, a 30-year old mason in Janakpur, said he had read out Raut’s pamphlets on secessionism at political rallies at Madhwapura near his village. “We will fight in the current course till we are able,” said Das. “Otherwise, we will ask for a separate state. That will be like a surgery, the final treatment.”

Charred motorcycles lie at a chowk in Janakpur, where a curfew was imposed after three youth died in police firing on January 21.
Charred motorcycles lie at a chowk in Janakpur, where a curfew was imposed after three youth died in police firing on January 21.
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The world’s forests will collapse if we don’t learn to say ‘no’

The world's forests will collapse if we don't learn to say 'no'
Photo Credit: internationalrivers/flickr
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An alarming new study has shown that the world’s forests are not only disappearing rapidly, but that areas of “core forest” — remote interior areas critical for disturbance-sensitive wildlife and ecological processes — are vanishing even faster.

Core forests are disappearing because a tsunami of new roads, dams, power lines, pipelines and other infrastructure is rapidly slicing into the world’s last wild places, opening them up like a flayed fish to deforestation, fragmentation, poaching and other destructive activities.

Most vulnerable of all are forests in the tropics. These forests sustain the planet’s most biologically rich and environmentally important habitats.

The collapse of the world’s forests isn’t going to stop until we start to say “no” to environmentally destructive projects.

Damn the dams

Those who criticise new infrastructure projects are often accused of opposing direly needed economic development, or – if they hail from industrial nations – of being hypocrites.

But when one begins to look in detail at the proposed projects, an intriguing pattern appears: Many are either poorly justified or will have far greater costs than benefits.

For example, in a recent essay in the journal Science, Amazon expert Philip Fearnside argues that many of the 330-odd hydroelectric dams planned or under construction in the Amazon will be more trouble than they’re worth.

Many of these dams will have huge environmental impacts, argues Fearnside, and will dramatically increase forest loss in remote regions.

This happens both because the Amazon is quite flat, requiring large areas of forest to be flooded, and because dams and their power lines require road networks that open up the forest to other human impacts. For instance, the 12 dams planned for Brazil’s Tapajós River are expected to increase Amazon deforestation by almost 1 million hectares.

Furthermore, Fearnside argues, much of the electricity the Amazon dams produce will be used for smelting aluminium, which provides relatively little local employment.

Fearnside asserts that mega-dams planned for the Congo Basin and Mekong River will also cause big problems, with limited or questionable benefits.

Roads to ruin

The explosive expansion of roads into the world’s last wild places is an even more serious problem. Indeed, Eneas Salati, one of Brazil’s most respected scientists, once quipped that “the best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads”.

Current projections suggest that by 2050, we’ll have nearly 25 million kilometres of additional paved roads – enough to encircle the Earth more than 600 times.

I have led three major studies of planned road expansion, for the entire planet and for theBrazilian Amazon and sub-Saharan Africa. All three show that many planned roads would have massive impacts on biodiversity and vital ecosystem services while providing only sparse socioeconomic benefits.

In Africa, for example, our analyses reveal that 33 planned “development corridors” would total over 53,000 kilometers in length while crisscrossing the continent and cutting into many remote, wild areas. Of these, we ranked only six as “promising” whereas the remainder were “inadvisable” or “marginal”.

Progress at any price?

There is a very active coalition of pro-growth advocates – including corporate lobbyists, climate-change deniers, and die-hard proponents of “economic growth” – that immediately decry any effort to oppose new developments.

Added to this are those who argue reasonably for economic development to combat poverty and disparity in developing nations. Such advocates often assert that an added bonus of development is greater sustainability, because impoverished people can be highly destructive environmentally. The denuded nation of Haiti is one such example.

Yet the on-the-ground reality is often far more complex. For instance, the heavy exploitation and export of natural resources, such as minerals, fossil fuels or timber, can cause nations to suffer “Dutch Disease” – an economic syndrome characterised by rising currency values, economic inflation and the weakening of other economic sectors, such as tourism, education and manufacturing.

Dutch Disease tends to increase economic disparity, because the poor are impacted most heavily by rising food and living costs. Further, the national economy becomes more vulnerable to economic shocks from fluctuating natural-resource prices or depletion. The Solomon Islands – which relies heavily on timber exports that are collapsing from overexploitation – is a poster-child for Dutch Disease.

On top of this is the toxic odour of corruption that pervades many big infrastructure projects. One would need an abacus just to keep track of the allegations.

To cite just two recent examples: in Malaysia, an independent investigation has concluded that nearly US$4 billion was misappropriated from a state-owned fund set up to attract international property, infrastructure and energy investments. And in Brazil, the granting of contracts for major Amazon dams has been drowning in allegations of corruption.

In both nations, public coffers needed for education, health and other vital services appear to have been hugely defrauded.

Just say ‘no’

The bottom line is that many big infrastructure projects are being pushed by powerful corporations, individuals or interests that have much to gain themselves, but often at great cost to the environment and developing societies.

Globally, the path we’re currently following isn’t just unsustainable. It’s leading to an astonishingly rapid loss of forests, wildlife and wilderness. From 2000 to 2012, an area of forest two and half times the size of Texas was destroyed, while a tenth of all core forests vanished.

If we’re going to have any wild places left for our children and grandchildren, we simply can’t say “yes” to every proposed development project.

For those that will have serious environmental and social consequences, we need to start saying “no” a lot more often.


Twitter laughs after Govinda says sorry and offers Rs 5 lakh to fan he slapped eight years ago

Twitter laughs after Govinda says sorry and offers Rs 5 lakh to fan he slapped eight years ago
Photo Credit: AFP
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He was Hero No. 1 and Coolie No.1 through his reign in the ‘90s as the king of slapstick comedy in Bollywood, before trying his hand at politics in 2000s. But not much has been heard about Govinda since his term as Member of Parliament ended in 2009. Now, he’s back in the limelight in rather bizarre circumstances.

On Tuesday, Govinda offered an unconditional apology and Rs 5 lakhs to a fan he slapped on sets of a film in 2008. Still a parliamentarian at the time, Govinda was supposedly provoked by the alleged misbehavior of a fan named Santosh Rai while Money Hai Toh Honey Hai was being shot at Filmistan Studio in Mumbai.

Rai’s case was initially quashed by the Bombay High Court, but the Supreme Court took up the case last year. Govinda’s lawyers had contended that a video clip of the slap had been doctored, but the court rejected this claim.

The Supreme Court had previously faulted Govinda for failing to act with grace and dignity.

On Tuesday, the judges asked Govinda to meet Rai within two weeks and negotiate a settlement. After the hearing, Govinda declared, “I have immense love and respect for my fans who also wanted me to apologise.”

Govinda’s apology and particularly the compensation he offered had social media laughing. Here’s a selection: