The Sundarbans reduced the wind speed of Cyclone Bulbul by 20 kilometres an hour and - at its own expense - saved the rest of southern Bengal from the fury of the storm.

The cyclone that had formed in the Bay of Bengal hit the Sundarbans coast late in the evening of November 9 with winds gusting up to a speed of 130 kilometres per hour. But as it moved parallel to the coast - eastwards towards Bangladesh - the world's largest mangrove forest impeded the wind, proving yet again the importance of mangroves in safeguarding coasts from storms that are becoming increasingly more frequent and more severe due to climate change.

The Sundarbans did have one natural ally this time - it was low tide when the cyclone made landfall. So, the wave heights were significantly lower than they had been during the 2009 Cyclone Aila. The landfall of the earlier cyclone during high tide had meant the destruction of many more embankments in 2009, though the maximum wind speed at that time had been lower than with Cyclone Bulbul. "Sundarbans has been partially saved during Bulbul as high tide did not coincide with the cyclone like what happened during Aila, which had made it far more dangerous," opined river expert and chairman of West Bengal Pollution Control Board Kalyan Rudra.

The November 9 cyclone was ferocious enough to overturn a large fishing trawler near Ganga Sagar, the mouth of the Ganga. A dozen people died on each side of the international border, for a total death toll of 24. One fisherman in India was crushed beneath the overturned vessel. On land in West Bengal, ten people were killed by falling huts and falling trees. The deaths in Bangladesh occurred mostly in Satkhira, the district that borders India's West Bengal state within the Sundarbans.

Authorities in West Bengal and Bangladesh evacuated more than two million people from the possible path of the storm and minimised human deaths. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) provided hourly forecasts on the path and intensity of the storm on the day of the landfall, enabling the authorities in both countries to plan the evacuation. For three days before that, it provided the same information every six hours, earning praise from scientists around the world for the accuracy of its forecasts.

The Bangladesh government moved an estimated 2.1 million people to cyclone shelters in 14 coastal districts. It sent troops to Satkhira to help in rescue operations and shut down Chittagong airport for 14 hours.

In recent years, Bangladesh's response to such natural disasters has been admirable for the way it has seen the authorities and the public pitch in with their efforts in the face of adversity. The evacuation operation for Bulbul was one of the biggest ever undertaken - some 5,500 designated cyclone shelters were pressed into service. WildTeam, a non-profit organisation, distributed food among 300 people who took shelter at the Wildteam Conservation Biology Centre, a community based training centre of the organisation that is enlisted as part of the shelter network, at Joymoni village in Mongla upazila in Bagerhat district. The people took shelter at the centre after the highest warning signal (10) was issued by the Metrological Department on November 9, said Dr Md. Anwarul Islam, General Secretary and Chief Executive of WildTeam.

'Protect Sundarbans'

Noting that the Sundarbans helped minimise the intensity of Cyclone Bulbul as well as the extent of damage in the coastal belt, Transparency International of Bangladesh (TIB) demanded that maximum measures be taken immediately to protect the world's largest mangrove forest in the country's own interests. It also called for stopping work on the coal-fired Rampal Power Plant and other industries around the Sundarbans that pose a great risk to it.

"The contributions of the Sundarbans towards protecting this region from most of the storms and tidal surges as a shield are undeniable. The Sundarbans has been protecting the lives and resources of Bangladesh, one of the world's most disaster-prone regions, for years being an impenetrable protection belt," TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said in a statement.

The authors write for

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts