By 2020, 12 more Sunderban islands will be under water

Sagar Island
29 October, 2006


By 2020, 12 more Sunderban islands will be under water

The Indian Express : Sagar Island (Sunderbans), October 29

An annual 3.14 mm rise in sea level at Sunderbans due to climate change is eating away 12 islands on the delta, says a study by a group of scientists from Jadavpur University.

The review says around 70,000 residents of Sunderban delta may turn into "environmental refugees" in the next 14 years unless the government initiates counter measures right away.

The findings, carried out by a team of scientists from Jadavpur University's School of Oceanographic Studies, are part of a vulnerability assessment project.

The effect is expected to be catastrophic for the residents of the ecologically sensitive islands - a major exodus, as the rising water level would submerge large chunks of land by 2020.

In fact, the intruding salty water has already had its effects on the region's flora and fauna: Lohachara and Bedford islands, with an area of more than six square kilometres between them, "vanished from the map" two decades ago.

Result: it left thousands of residents as "environmental refugees".

Prof Sugata Hazra, director, School of Oceanographic Studies, said: "A preliminary survey reveals that around 7,000 people have been displaced from their original habitat in Sunderbans over the last 30 years. They have turned into environmental refugees due to the sea-level rise, coastal erosion, cyclone and coastal flooding."

The migrants, now living in various refugee colonies, are just an indication of what is in store for the world-renowned mangrove islands, the scientists warned. The islands are also a habitat for the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

Divakar Bhandari, who once tilled his own land on Lohachara island, now lives the life of a refugee with his family at Colony Para in Sagar island.

"I had a small plot," he told Newsline, "and the sea claimed some of it each day. And one day, it was all gone. "It's 22 years since I am living in this refugee colony."

That sea, the scientists say, is now threatening more lives. Among the most vulnerable are Ghoramara and the thickly populated Sagar islands. According to the School of Oceanographic Studies scientists, around 28,000 people may be forced to migrate soon from various parts of Sagar island unless the Centre and the state governments adopt preventive measures.

The study says Sagar island is likely to lose 15 per cent of its land over the next 14 years.
"What can be done at most is to delay the process of erosion by adopting proper measures, which unfortunately, have not been adequate," said a scientist who is part of the research team.

Prof Hazra said: "Halting (sea-level rise) may be possible for another 20 years. A gradual shift (of people) needs to be planned. The authorities are only worried about tackling instantaneous disasters like floods and earthquakes. What about the slow-onset disasters? This is one of those."

The study says: "Considering the probability of high intensity cyclones, surge-height, erosion of coastal area, crop yield, situation of properties (agricultural fields, aquaculture farms, jetties, markets), the total valuation of loss may be Rs 6,000 million by 2020."

For the soon-to-be refugees, however, the cost is incalculable.