Climate impacts on Indian Sundarbans severe

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Sunderbans embankments facing threat of collapse.

The impacts of climate change on the Indian part of the Sundarbans are severe because of official apathy and complete lack of development planning, according to a newly released study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), India.


The report says, “Natural calamities and global warming are playing havoc with people’s lives, but what is worsening the situation is the development deficit. The Sundarbans has remained largely neglected and isolated over the years.”


President of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) Muzaffar Ahmed on Wednesday formally unveiled the study report titled ‘Living with changing climate: Impact, vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sunderbans’ at a function jointly organised by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, CSE, and Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), Bangladesh at BIAM auditorium in the city.


The Sundarbans, one of the most biodiversity-rich habitats in the world, is getting severely pummeled by changing climate.


The study says the Indian part of Sundarbans is one of the most underdeveloped regions in India where about 44 percent of people live below the poverty line, per capita electricity consumption is one-fourteenth of the national average, and about 60 percent of the households do not have access to clean drinking water.


About 87 percent people live with some sort of food shortage. There is huge deficit in healthcare infrastructure. The Sundarbans needs three-times more infrastructures (doctors, primary health centres, specialised hospitals etc.) to meet the guidelines specified by the central government of India.


The study reveals that about one-third of the population does not even have access to primary healthcare. The education system is not helping people seek alternative livelihood opportunities. There is just one degree or technical college per 250sq km.


The dropout rate is very high at the secondary level. The coverage of institutional banking and insurance facility in the Sundarbans is very low. Only about 10 percent of the population avail institutional banking and there is no agriculture insurance, which is quite popular and supported by the state governments in the rest of the country.


Absence of marketing and value addition infrastructure do not allow better price for whatever the agriculture, fishery and forest yield, according to the study.


The Sundarbans is the most densely populated rural part of India. The population density in 2011 was about 1,000 at per sqkm. About 78 percent of the economy and 65 percent of workers are dependent on agriculture directly or indirectly.


Aditya Ghosh, lead researcher of the report, said: “What the Sundarbans needs is a development plan that will not only bridge the development deficit of the region but will tackle the impacts of the changing climate. In this context, a new land and embankment policy is a must.”


He said there is an incremental cost of development. Climate change has, in fact, increased the cost of development, and this cost has to be paid for by an international mechanism like the Green Climate Fund.


“However, we must remember that it does not absolve the governments of India and Bangladesh of their roles and responsibilities in the Sundarbans,” he added.


The release of the study report was followed by presentations and a panel discussion involving some key Bangladeshi experts and commentators on the Sundarbans. The aim of these sessions was to collate experiences and viewpoints from both sides of the border and reach a common understanding on how to shape action to confront a climate vulnerable future.


Rampal power plant to destroy Sundarbans


The proposed coal-based Rampal power plant in Bagerhat will destroy the unique ecosystem and biodiversity of the Sundarbans, a storehouse of natural resources, said president of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) Muzaffar Ahmed on Wednesday.


“The development works that destroy the unique ecosystem of the Sundarbans is not development … I do hesitate to call it development,” he told the inaugural session of a report launching ceremony and a panel discussion at BIAM auditorium in the city.


Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), India, and Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), Bangladesh, jointly organised the function and the discussion tilted ‘Bangladesh, India and Climate Change: Sharing Experiences and Evidence from the Sundarbans.’


Senior Fellow of Climate Change group at International Institute for Environment and Development Dr Saleemul Huq, CSE deputy director Chandra Bhushan and CDP executive director S Jahangir Hasan Masum also spoke at the function held with Assistant Professor of Jahangirnagar University Sharmind Neelormi in the chair.


Speaking as the chief guest, Muzaffar Ahmed said the biodiversity of the Sundarbans is unique, but unplanned human actions have changed its biodiversity.


The flora-fauna, biodiversity and natural resources are being destroyed due to aggressive human activities and the growing pressure of population, he said.


The Bapa president said the socio-economic pressures are changing the environment in the Sundarbans, resulting in multifaceted impacts on the lives and livelihood of people and other biological phenomena.


“The economic development has failed to preserve the ecosystem of the Sundarbans…. It’s a storehouse of natural resources, you can get economic benefits without destroying it,” he said.


Muzaffar Ahmed said: “We have to look into the anthropological, social and economic aspects. The development works should not destroy the resources of the Sundarbans.”


Saleemul Huq stressed strengthening cross-boundary collaborations in research to identify the major problems of the Sundarbans to protect the world’s largest mangrove forest from its impending peril.


CSE deputy director Chandra Bhushan said the development planning in the Indian part of the Sundarbans has never included climate change or its impacts within its purview of things – and this is quite evident in the way everything from electrification to land management is being done here.


In the case of electrification, despite the vulnerability (due to the fragile topography and frequency of extreme weather events) and skewed cost of the grid, a decentralised distribution network for renewable energy has not been promoted, he said.


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