Photo credit: Frances Voon
The residents of the Sundabarans, an alluvial archipelago spread across Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, harbor not a single doubt in their minds that climate change is real and is happening. They've seen it for themselves: In the past two decades alone, four of their islands have sunk into the sea, displacing 6,000 families from their villages.
Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, cyclones, mangrove destruction, and coastal flooding have created thousands of environmental refugees in the area. In response, the people have decided to form a united front against global warming.
Over 40,000 students have sowed saplings along the river embankment, besides dumping one bucket of soil each on the natural dam in the dense mangrove forests.
"We have seen how some islands have been submerged by the rising water levels and how some mangrove forests were destroyed by coastal flooding. Earlier we didn't know the exact reason of this natural disaster but now we can understand it very well," said Sanatan Dolui, a senior school student, as he and his entire family planted mangrove tree, eucalyptus and mango saplings ."If we have to survive on the land of our forefathers, we have to protect it in a natural way."Formed by 56 crisscrossing islands, the Sundarbans was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco for its rich biodiversity, including the Royal Bengal Tiger.
"We have to take adequate measures for protecting 9,630 sq km of Sundarbans from the dire consequence of climate change," said Kanti Ganguly, Sundarban's Development Minister. "It's a serious concern for 4.2 million people residing there."
On Sundarban Day, Aug. 21, the residents took a pledge to plant mangrove saplings along river embankments, reduce the use of petrol and diesel, and also completely eliminate the use of plastic in the delta region.
"The average rate of sea level rise at Sagar point is 3.14 mm per year while this figure is 5 mm at Pakhiraloy point near Sajnekhali in the Sundarbans," said Pranabesh Sanyal, a teacher in Jadavpur University's department of oceanographic studies and a member of the West Bengal Biodiversity Board. "Both these figures are much higher than the global average of 2 mm per annum." He pointed out a study that the Sundarbans would lose another 15 percent of its total habitable land, displacing more than 30,000 people by 2020.
The rise in sea level also threatens the resident tiger population; the primary tiger habitats in Dalhousie and Bhangadoyani are gradually going under water, driving the tigers to migrate north. ::IANS