Meghalaya losing its sheen in a natural resource crisis


“Looking at water, I am seeing a crisis!” A mate shared while we were discussing the effects of climate change in Meghalaya. That scared me. Meghalaya is famous for its breathtaking landscapes, lush green tropical wet forest, rich tribal culture, and proudly tag-lined “the wettest land on the earth” surprisingly facing a paradoxical natural resource crisis.  The climate conditions of the region are significantly changing, creating concern for the livelihood, ecosystem, and health of the people, flora, and fauna. According to recent IMD data (July 22-23), Meghalaya is having more than 60% of rainfall deficit. Due to the paucity of water in the rivers, and wetlands, the people of Meghalaya are facing up to 12-hour power cuts in recent months. This year, Omium Lake, the sole source of thermal power, recorded the lowest water level in years. People living in the town started facing a shortage of water and started buying drinking water at a huge price from tankers. Some parts of Garo have declared holidays to schools due to a soaring increase in temperature almost touching 40 Celsius.

This chain of events never happened in the history of Meghalaya and is a stark reminder that human activities are creating a huge threat to nature. Reports say North-Eastern states will be highly prone to the effects of climatic changes due to their geo-ecological fragility. Cherrapunji which once received the highest rainfall in the world is relocated to Mawsynram, which is now called the wettest place on earth. Cherrapunji, which received over 22,987mm of rainfall in a year in 1861 dropped down to an average of 11,430mm. Rampant deforestation of the forest covers and rapid industrialization were the major responsible agents mentioned for the drastic shift. Forests which were the great sources of carbon sink in mitigating global warming are now facing huge risk. Even though 76 % of Meghalaya’s land is blessed with forest and trees, Meghalaya lost 73 sq. km of forest cover in just two years – from 2019 to 2021 (ISFR 2021)

Incessant rain patterns lead to flooding of land and agricultural fields, and erosion of topsoil in nearby states and Bangladesh making the farmers in distress. Soil erosion causes loss of fertile topsoil and which eventually decreases the productivity of the land and thereby creating a risk to food security. A study conducted with the scientists of Krishi Vigyan Kendra KVK Meghalaya, (2012) came up with the findings that hill agriculture, hydrology, and water resources may be severely damaged due to climate change. They conclude that practicing jhum cultivation has an adverse effect on climate change. Traditionally, Jhum was more of a sustainable practice in hilly regions as the cycle used to be more than 15 years. Due to the increased population, lack of alternative economic sources and paucity of technical knowledge in sustainable practices, a huge chunk of people especially in Garo regions are following unscientific short-cycle cultivation. Monoculture, cash crop agriculture, the traditional practice of slash and burn (jhum Cultivation), illegal coal, and sand mining are also other major catalysts for climate change. Due to the emergence of a settled lifestyle, the natural rhythm of water is profoundly questioned by holding the flow of water by building dams, reservoirs, and canals to fulfill our water demands.  In the advent of the water crisis, a new thermal project is setting up in Tura, West Garo Hills to strengthen the electricity supply. Even though it will serve our immediate needs, does that solve the crisis? The fabric of our hydraulic societies is straining under the weight of unsustainability, threatening the very essence of our existence (Ajitabh Sharma, 2023). Rather than solely depending on grey structures we need to start giving importance to blue-green engineering, infusing nature-based solutions which don’t alter the principles of hydrology.

Way forward:

  1. Liaison between interlinked departments and collective community participation is the fulcrum. All stakeholders need to come together to protect the catchment area, reforest the forest covers, stop the illegal mining and quarrying which are depleting the groundwater sources, and protect the wetlands which are adequate to mitigate the climate crisis. Forest covers and wetlands are best in sequestering carbon, efforts to revive and protect those can bring back the amiable weather conditions. Planting trees will improve the percolation capacity of the soil, prevent soil erosion and thus improve the soil quality and agricultural productivity. Moreover, reforesting can provide non-timber forest produce which can provide a source of livelihood for the people depending on the forest. This reduces their dependence on jhum cultivation and different monocultural cash crop practices. This not only improves the livelihood of the people, but it can also enrich the wildlife and flora.
  2. As the government allocated a huge chunk of MGNREGA funds to Natural resource management (NRM) activities, Planting water-rejuvenating indigenous plants like Bamboo along the valleys and riverside can be some immediate steps that can be taken to revive the water bodies.
  3. Rather than completely stopping their traditional jhum cultivation, improved sustainable practices can be adopted. Such successful interventions have been made in Nagaland, hilly regions of Assam where land-leveling, bunding, contour-bonding, encouraging biodiversity, multiple cropping cultivation including leguminous varieties are found, maintain soil fertility and help augment household incomes. (NEPED, NERCORMP)


  1. Bhaumik, Subir (2016). “India: World’s wettest place Suffers water shortage”
  2. Singh, Deepak. (2023).  “Climate Change Hits Meghalaya’s Garo Hills: Rampant deforestation and illegal mining devastate climate, water & livelihoods”
  3. Indian State of Forest Report 2019, 173-174.
  4. Indian State of Forest Report 2021
  5. Maisnam, Guneshori et al (2016). “Effect of climate change in Meghalaya as perceived by the scientists of Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Meghalaya, India”
  6. Sharma, Ajitabh (2023). “From ancient wisdom of hydrology to modern hydraulic society: the genesis of water crisis”

Vivek V Dev is a  rural development professional who completed his post-graduation from the Tata Institute of social sciences (2018-20) currently working with various civil society organizations,  and government and non-government organizations on Natural resource management, sustainable development, and women’s livelihoods.

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