Climate is changing, and the Sundarban residents can feel it
The Sundarban delta region in the Bay of Bengal, with 10,000 square kilometres of estuarine mangrove forest and 102 islands, is the world's largest delta. The land here is an eerie muddle of landmass and sea, with mudflats and waves engaged in unrelenting battle. Constantly lashed by cyclonic storms and the sinking -- or birth -- of landforms, the region is also economically underdeveloped, and poverty here is abject and endemic.
The delta is also becoming a hotter place to live in. Analysis of surface data near Sagar island in the Sundarbans reveals a temperature increase of 0.9 degree celsius per year. Experts are of the opinion that this is one of the first regions bearing the brunt of climate change.
All this lends piquancy to how local people perceive changes in their environment. Some testimonies from 2 islands, Sagar and Ghoramara.
Anjan Kumar Das
"I am 61 years old; I am a farmer in village Begua Khali, Dakhin Para (Sagar). The sea was 2 kilometers away, after I was born, but now it is only a few feet away. By sitting at home, you can listen to the sound of the sea. All you have to do is travel a few kilometers towards the south from where I am sitting now. There, there used to be the Seemapore office for monitoring the changes in the high and low water tide. That office since my birth has gone under water thrice. Now the situation is such that all the villagers adjacent to the office have shifted. Those villages have become part of the sea now.
There are diseases like paralysis, thrombosis, and some others which never existed before. I think that all these happen because of the food we take that are grown with fertilisers. All the vegetables look good and we eat them. Then we are suffering.
The heat from the sun has increased. During the summer time, the temperature goes very high. All the old trees that used to shield us from the sea and the sun have been cut. Look at those trees near the road. They are under the control of the panchayat and they are cutting them, replacing them with other species like jhau, eucalyptus which grow up in a few years. They are again cut and sold, turning this place like the Sahara deserts.
What will we do, slowly we will just go away and the coming generations will migrate to wherever they can. Now, migration is less, only those who are affected by erosion go and put up houses somewhere. Those who cannot, they run away to cities. The political parties take advantage of this."
Paresh Chandra Patra
"I am 60 years old and of village Dhoblar Shibpur (Sagar). I am into farming. I also participate in social work in the village for the good of the people. First time, erosion took place in 1996, that time 120 houses got destroyed. I lost 9 bighas of land, I had a pond and used to carry out some gardening -- all these have gone. That has actually put me in a bad position. I became weaker after the floods of 1996, and so now I cannot give time for social work.
Land is going under water, as the tides become higher and stronger. Now we think that every year land is going. What will happen, no one knows and maybe in 10 years, all land will go to the sea. Where will we go? The government tells you can go anywhere as you do not have anything that belongs to you, but here we have land.
Sasanka Shankar Bera
"Namaskar. I am 67 years of age. I am a farmer and fisherman of village Ghoramara. I am starting from the post office, the historical monument of Ghoramara near the Mud Point. This post office is one of the oldest in India. I have also seen many post offices in Calcutta but they are nothing compared to this. It was made to resist storms and floods on a land of 32 bighas. It is nearly as old as the country's first post office at Khejuri, in West Bengal only.
This island was 3 miles away from the sea. Surrounding us was a major forest. The wind from the sea could not break that fortress, and so we were saved from cold. Even hot waves could not catch us. But the sea has destroyed everything. The island has become small; most of its parts have vanished, gone under.
But the biggest problem is health. Ghoramara was a granary with food and crops, and we were happy. We survived in the salty wind. But now, these hybrid rice with a lot of fertilisers have taken over. I can say this much that the new crop made through fertilisers will not listen to others. By consuming high yielding rice, we have reduced our age. The government wants to increase our longevity, by vaccination, but by eating this food, we are crippling ourselves.
The water level is definitely increasing. Researchers who came here before said that the height of the island has gone down by about 2 feet. There is proof also that comes solely from our own experience and not their science -- our ponds are dryer now, and the sea water is more. Salt water has entered in many places inside. Before we had to make canals for drainage of the sea water that used to come in, but no more, as the land is going lower."
"I have been born in Sagar island itself . My age is 78 years. I use to be a teacher here; now I am retired. I have also written a book on the Sagar islands. I write for various newspapers.
There was a turtle called Ganga Ridley here, but no more. Now, we see islands like Ghoramara, Kankardighi, Raidighi, and the breaking of their sides. There used to be many fishes, but now, all fish is getting destroyed. Thousands of nets are thrown everyday to catch these fishes. As a result, how will egg formation take place?
The water level is increasing. Yes, the temperature has increased. Rains arrive sometimes ahead of time and sometimes behind time. Naturally, it should not be cold here, the seawater keeps air warm, but now it is very cold in the winter season. This has started happening for the last 7 to 8 years.
All is for politicians; if they cut the forest and settle some people, then they will get a few votes. Mangrove forest has been destroyed that way. If police catches anyone, they ask which (political) party and then they leave the culprits. So go ahead and cut trees. The bunds are never repaired. Just when rain comes, the contractors and engineers and come and throw some amount of mud here and there, gulp all the money and go away."
Kanhai Lal Maity
"I am a teacher at Milan Vidyapeeth High School in Ghoramara. I am living on this island from the time of my birth. My father was born in Medinipore, but all future generations that came after that were born here. People came from Medinipore in those days, hearing that new development is happening in the Sunderbans and people can till the land, and also have fish to eat.
So, many people who were connected with zamindars (landowners) in Medinipore came here and managed to buy land a very low price. Then the workers of zamindars took the land at lease and slowly, it became the property of these people. Thus Ghoramara started running, and there was no education those days. There was a medium school in which I am working. There were classes from standard two to standard 6. After that, came other classes and in 1992, we got the high school, and now we are well off regarding education.
Ghoramara was once a part of Sagar. Continuous erosion has reduced the island to one-third of what it was. I have seen 50 per cent loss of the island. Many people have made houses outside the island -- government made rehabilitation possible in the Sagar islands, and some people shifted to Calcutta or Delhi.
The weather is such that the germ of tb hangs here. Cancer is also prevalent and stomach problems are very common. All these are happening because of water problem, as all the houses out here do not have sanitation facilities.
The need of the island is the boundary. The island is getting destroyed because of the river. If that can be stopped, then there is a good future for the island."