The Vanishing Sundarbans: Climate Change's Effects on Its Most Susceptible
Rising sea levels, erratic cyclones and disappearing forest, this is the current state of the Sundarbans. We’re a (supposedly, hopefully?) growing climate-conscious world, seeing the changes in weather make us fearful for our future generations – it is easy to forget that there are people in the world who have been feeling the massive effects of climate change for years now. Environmental experts have been on the ball regarding the physical and environmental effects of climate change, but have we given a thought toward the people who inhabit The Sundarbans? What happens to those whose homes disappear and continues to do so right in front of their very eyes? Whose lives are riddled with suffering, due to our blatant disregard for the planet for our lifestyle of convenience and ease.
The region is a collation of approximately 100 islands (over 50 inhabited and just under 50 uninhabited) with creeks and river channels throughout. The inhabited area is populated by around 4 million, and they in large part depend on an eco-system of harmony; farmers, fishermen, forest and honey collectors. The people of the Sundarbans have been facing the challenges of climate change for the last four decades; the varying lengths of the seasons, the erratic rainfall, the changes in temperature, the coastal erosion and rising sea levels are a list of geo-climatic issues that adversely affect the main source of livelihood, agriculture.
The International Scientific Journal lists in detail some of the consequences of climate change the people living in the Sundarbans face such as:
• Rising sea levels- Sea levels have risen double that of the global average, consequently, the mangrove trees cease to grow as they used to, submergence increases and cultivation declines.
• Increase in Cyclones- Aila, Cidr, Nargis and Hudhud have caused devastation in the delta region around the Bay of Bengal. Aila affected one million people in the region and put an enormous debt burden on the people, who lost their homes and property.
• Overexploitation of forest produce - Overfishing and deforestation have put the environment under pressure. Demand for prawn products is so constant that the natural, sustainable and traditional methods of fishing cannot keep up. Local fishermen are then forced to adopt “excessive prawn seed culture”, leading to “irreparable harm being caused to the environment due to the erosion of the mangrove eco-system”, the very eco-system that maintains the entire Sundarbans. This then starts a domino effect, compromising the mud dykes, the mangrove trees themselves and the delta’s fishing population.
• Spread of diseases – The long periods without water puts the population at risk of water-borne diseases, compelling them to consume water from wherever available, despite the cleanliness.
The choices are limited, with land increasingly eroding and its high levels of salinity due to cyclones, climate change is slowly eliminating agriculture as a means of livelihood leaving locals with even fewer and more dangerous options, such as crab hunting and honey collecting. The danger with crab hunting is because of the excessive demand, people are forced to enter to uninhabited parts of the Sundarbans, this includes the Sundarban Tiger Reserve. Families risk their lives together and from the fringes of the forest enter the depths of the jungle in order the collect honey and hunt crabs. Forced to crawl along the forest grounds, covered in bee stings in fear of tiger attacks, which have become more common in recent years. It’s near impossible to get a real number on the how many deaths have been caused because of tiger attacks, entering the reserve is illegal, out of fear families do not report deaths, women receive no compensation for the loss of their husbands and out of desperation, they are then forced to do the same, it’s a vicious cycle.