Rescue act

Published: Saturday 15 November 2003

There's fresh hope for the Sunderbans region. The West Bengal government has received a grant of us $0.5 million from the United Nations Development Programme (undp) for the conservation of the mangrove forests. The funds will be used primarily for promoting sustainable livelihood practices among villagers who largely depend on the forest for their living.

Excessive exploitation of forest resources for timber and fishing is doing irreparable harm to the ecosystem. Among the activities that cause the maximum harm is that of collecting tiger prawn seeds. A K Raha, director, Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, says that some recent studies have found that in collecting one tiger prawn seed, a villager may end up destroying about 100 other fish seedlings, resulting in a massive decline in the populations of fish such as betki and parshe.

In an attempt to wean villagers off destructive practices, the undp fund will finance, among other things, water harvesting projects for conserving water in ponds and canals so that villagers can engage in agriculture throughout the year. The money will also be utilised to teach zari embroidery to village women. In addition to this, research will be undertaken on the adverse changes in water quality and soil salinity in the forest and nearby areas.

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