` Un­planned roads can cause a lot of dam­age'

Down to Earth - - SCIENCE -

Wil­liam Lau­rance, pro­fes­sor at James Cook Univer­sity, Aus­tralia, says though In­dia has a lot of ar­eas where road con­struc­tion can ben­e­fit agri­cul­ture,it also has a num­ber of ex­cep­tion­ally im­por­tant en­vi­ron­ments where new roads can cause a lot of dam­age. Ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view In the global road map you have gen­er­ated, a large part of In­dia is marked fea­si­ble for road mak­ing. Does this mean In­dia need not worry much about en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues be­fore lay­ing roads? No, it is not that sim­ple. Ar­eas in red are where road ben­e­fits would be great­est and where en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues are less pro­nounced. But even in such ar­eas, roads can and will have en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. For in­stance, it has been shown that tigers in In­dia can move across large ar­eas of set­tled and semi-set­tled land be­tween tiger in­creas­ing roads and agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, the set­tled lands be­tween re­serves will be­come more hos­tile for wildlife such as tigers.

Also, of course, In­dia has a num­ber of ex­cep­tion­ally im­por­tant en­vi­ron­ments where new roads can cause a lot of dam­age. Some ex­am­ples would in­clude the coun­try's na­tional parks, rain­forests Hi­malayas, and trop­i­cal and high­erel­e­va­tion forests in Arunachal Pradesh.

How­ever, in broad terms our study does in­di­cate that there is much po­ten­tial in In­dia to im­prove agri­cul­ture. Road im­prove­ments, such as paving, can con­trib­ute to agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity by bet­ter link­ing farm­ers with mar­kets and mak­ing fer­tiliser and agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies more ac­ces­si­ble. Lack of in­fra­struc­ture has been a big is­sue in In­dia. What key is­sues should be kept in mind while plan­ning new roads? Our key points are that roads that pen­e­trate into wilder­ness ar­eas or parks can cause a great deal of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, and so one has to be very care­ful about plan­ning new roads.

Our study tries, on a broad global scale, to un­der­score the kinds of sit­u­a­tions where roads can be most harm­ful and where they can be most ben­e­fi­cial. Ac­tual road plan­ning will also need to in­cor­po­rate lo­cal-scale in­for­ma­tion, be­cause the global datasets we had ac­cess to are of­ten too coarse for ac­tual road-plan­ning. How should ar­eas that ap­pear eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive on your map but al­ready have roads laid out be dealt with? Many en­vi­ron­men­tally im­por­tant ar­eas around the world al­ready have roads. A key pri­or­ity is to limit fur­ther road pro­lif­er­a­tion in th­ese ar­eas, and even to close some ex­ist­ing roads if it ap­pears that they are caus­ing a lot of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and gen­er­at­ing only limited ben­e­fits.

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