While the economic losses due to HWC are considerable, it’s not all that we are losing. Several other losses occur due to these conflicts that we cannot put a monetary value to. The biggest of these is the loss of biodiversity. Humans also bear some of these hidden costs; psychological losses due to loss of livelihoods, costs of preventing animal attacks on the community and farms, lack of compensation by the government and the losses incurred because members of the community have to spend time that could have been spent elsewhere protecting their land and crops (called opportunity costs).
While the number of animals killed via direct HWC is easily counted (I mentioned some of these numbers in my previous post), the loss of species due to activities like road expansion, farmland expansion etc is completely unaccounted for. In the state of Maharashtra, India, a highway project runs right through a forest area, and scientists believe that for every 10 meters of road laid, 100 species of organisms (plants, animals, insects, microbes) are killed. This has a huge domino effect on the ecosystem.
Further, the cost of activities (both indirect and direct killing) on the ecosystem and it’s functions is completely undetermined. While determining this is a task in itself, huge losses are incurred in the form of loss of primary productivity of plants, biomass of forests and destabilization of the food chain.
Psychological losses to humans
The imminent danger of an animal attack is always on the minds of the people living in HWC prone areas. They spend countless hours keeping watch on their fields, losing sleep and food in the process. Their lives also require them to enter the forest from time to time. Surveyed individuals often tell that they fear entering forests. If an animal successfully attacks their assets, they will have to deal with the stress of figuring out how much yield they lost and whether they can compensate for it in other ways. Men face increasing pressure to leave the village in search of work; women removed or replanted damaged crops.
The members of the community also have to spend a lot of time in repairing fences damaged by the animals. This requires paying extra-money, or going into the forest for getting the materials. There is the added pressure of evading forest officials, who tend to treat the villagers badly. Children are also tasked with looking after the property, instead of attending school. If large animals like elephants or bears destroy water pipelines, women are generally required to travel to other places to fetch water.
Both psychological and opportunity costs paid by the villagers have an effect on their health. Lack of sleep and worry significantly affects their mental health. If their yield is affected, this brings shortage of food for the household. Women typically suffer because of this, as they are required to traditionally serve others in the house first before eating what is left in private. Women also suffer when they are required to remove and replant damaged crops; this exposes them to heat exhaustion and insect-borne diseases. They are also the victims when they are required to fetch water. Accidents are bound to happen along the way, apart from the obvious exertion of walking long distances with heavy load.
Further, any accident or health issue caused by HWC will require medical treatment that increases the economic burden of the household. Here’s an excerpt from a survey conducted in Bhalalogpur village, Uttarakhand, India:
The elephant came from somewhere in-between from the fields. My son came home and he made a fire torch and tried to shoo away the elephant. We told him not to go but he did not listen. The elephant caught hold of the fire torch and threw it and kicked my son. . .People from the Forest Department came and many rounds of blanks were fired, but still it did not move from there. . .The elephant made my son’s condition very serious by kicking him. My son was bedridden for three months. . .God saved his life.
He is OK now, but there is still some problem with his walking. . . I have bills of 32,000 rupees that were spent on him.
The gender angle
As you can clearly see, it’s the women who bear the burden of indirect costs in the form of increased work, lack of food and physical well-being. This trend is present through out the India.
Similar hidden costs are present throughout Africa, which is also heavily reliant on agriculture. Hidden costs in the Western countries are usually in the form of repairs and psychological damage. Health costs are minimized because of different socio-economic and political dynamics of the country.
All of these hidden costs are an added stress; one straw closer to breakdown. When breakdown hits, retaliation killings are usually the norm in Indian communities. This can get really, really ugly. More on that in the next post.
- Monica V. Ogra; Human–wildlife conflict and gender in protected area borderlands:
A case study of costs, perceptions, and vulnerabilities from Uttarakhand, India; Geoforum (39) 2008.