Climate Change – Impact on the Sundarbans: A case study

Article · January 2012with1,552 Reads
Abstract
Sundarbans is the world's largest contiguous mangrove forest and is a designated world heritage site. Shared by India and Bangladesh, it is home to several species including tigers. The habitat supports approximately 4.37 million people. As per the research conducted it is believed that the Sundarbans have soaked in 4.15 crore tonnes of carbon dioxide. Due to climate change the Sundarbans faces several challenges. With rising sea levels, islands are disappearing and the increasing salinity in the water and soil has severely threatened the health of mangrove forests and the quality of soil and crops. Additionally, there have been serious disturbances to hydrological parameters and change in fishing patterns, resulting in disastrous consequences for fishermen. Frequent cyclones and erratic monsoon raining pattern are damaging ecology and humanity. In addition to general environment protection laws, India has also set up institutes at both the Central and State levels to specifically tackle the effects of climate change on Sundarbans. However, split responsibilities between Centre and States and multitude of institutions has resulted in overlap of responsibilities, loss of time and resources, which makes the institutions ineffective. With risk of the Sundarbans submerging, there is an urgent need for global reduction of emissions and replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. Governments also need to promote plantation of local saline resistant seeds. Even as the State and Central Government of India finalise action plans to tackle the problems of climate change and take steps for poverty alleviation in one of the world's poorest regions, there is a pressing requirement to set up flood relief centres and rapid action response teams to cyclones and storms.
7
CLIMATE CHANGE – IMPACT ON THE
SUNDARBANS:
A CASE STUDY
Kanksha Mahadevia
Lawyer: Bar Council of Delhi
New Delhi, India
mahadevia.kanksha@gmail.com
Mayank Vikas
Lawyer: Bar Council of Delhi
New Delhi, India
mayankvikas@gmail.com
Abstract Sundarbans is the world’s largest contiguous
mangrove forest and is a designated world heritage site. Shared
by India and Bangladesh, it is home to several species including
tigers. The habitat supports approximately 4.37 million people.
As per the research conducted it is believed that the Sundarbans
have soaked in 4.15 crore tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Due to climate change the Sundarbans faces several challenges.
With rising sea levels, islands are disappearing and the
increasing salinity in the water and soil has severely threatened
the health of mangrove forests and the quality of soil and crops.
Additionally, there have been serious disturbances to
hydrological parameters and change in fishing patterns, resulting
in disastrous consequences for fishermen. Frequent cyclones and
erratic monsoon raining pattern are damaging ecology and
humanity.
In addition to general environment protection laws, India has
also set up institutes at both the Central and State levels to
specifically tackle the effects of climate change on Sundarbans.
However, split responsibilities between Centre and States and
multitude of institutions has resulted in overlap of
responsibilities, loss of time and resources, which makes the
institutions ineffective.
With risk of the Sundarbans submerging, there is an urgent need
for global reduction of emissions and replacement of fossil fuels
with renewable energy. Governments also need to promote
plantation of local saline resistant seeds. Even as the State and
Central Government of India finalise action plans to tackle the
problems of climate change and take steps for poverty alleviation
in one of the world’s poorest regions, there is a pressing
requirement to set up flood relief centres and rapid action
response teams to cyclones and storms.
Keywords-component; Sundarbans, climate change, sea level,
salinity, biodiversity, threat, conservation, mitigation.
I. METHODOLOGY
For the purpose of writing this paper, we have reviewed and
analysed secondary data, information and literature that is
available in the public domain, including information
available on official websites of several Governmental
agencies, scientific data and reports. Reproduction of data and
scientific analysis in this paper is only to the extent of
reiterating the unique challenges faced by the Sundarbans
delta and we do not intend to infringe any existing copyright
and we do not claim copyright over publicly available data.
II. INTRODUCTION
With an area of approximately 3,287,263 square kilometers,
India is the seventh largest country in the world. Spanning over
a large geographical area and despite being home to over 1.2
billion people, approximately 20% of India is still covered by
diverse forests. In the north-eastern shores of India lies the
Sundarbans, the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest
which is spread across approximately 9,630 square kilometers,
of which 5,363 square kilometers is reclaimed area and the
4,267 square kilometers are protected mangrove forests. A
further 6,000 square kilometers of contiguous mangrove forests
are spread across neighbouring Bangladesh. a The Indian
administrative region of Sundarbans lies within the State of
West Bengal.
The Sundarban ecosystem is one of the most biologically
protective and taxonomically diverse ecosystems of the Indian
Sub-continent.b The entire area is a conglomeration of river
channels, creeks and islands which total about 102 in number.
Of these 54 islands are inhabited while the remaining 48
islands are forested. It is believed that the name Sundarbans is
derived from the Heritiera fomes tree, one of the most
abundantly growing mangrove trees that are locally called
Sundari’.
Approximately 200 years ago, the Sundarbans measured
about 16,700 square kilometers and was home to several
species such as the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus),
wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee), swamp deer (Rucervus
duvaucelii), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) and leopards
a Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”; Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests,
Government of West Bengal, Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/con_ar_tr_sunderban.htm.
b Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
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(Panthera pardus fusca) which due to change in habitat and
human induced pressures have now become locally extinct.c
The Sundarbans delta faces tremendous pressure by a
bourgeoning human population that is economically,
educationally and socially backward and inhabits an area that is
mostly inaccessible due to poor infrastructure facilities. As per
2011 census conducted by the Government of India, there are
approximately 4.37 million people living in and around the
Sundarbans delta. In the absence of any industry, the vast
majority of the local population in Indian Sundarbans is
dependent on agriculture. However, due to lack of irrigation
facilities as well as basic infrastructure, agricultural practices
are primitive and dependent on seasonal rainfall, yielding poor
crop and acts as an erratic source of livelihood. Both landless
as well as land owning people supplement their income by
exploiting the mangrove forests, fishing, collecting and
farming tiger prawn seeds in its waters, the latter particularly
causing large scale damage to marine biodiversity.
The Sundarbans is an innocent victim of accelerating global
warming and climate change and faces a direct threat to its very
existence.
III. IMPORTANCE
Located in the delta of the three rivers, Ganges,
Brahmaputra and Meghna, it is home to a significant portion of
one of the world's largest contiguous block of mangrove forests
and biodiversity. In 1987, the Sundarbans was designated as a
UNESCO world heritage site and thereafter was declared as a
protected biosphere reserve by the Government of India in
1989. The Sundarbans display high biodiversity as well as the
occurrence of endangered and highly threatened species,
including the only population of critically endangered Royal
Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) found in a coastal
mangrove habitat. Sundarbans is also home to 300 species of
flora and about 425 species of wildlife, including the Gangetic
Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) and Irrawady Dolphin
(Orcaella brevirostris). The Sundarbans account for 85 per
cent of all mangrove habitats found in India; including 63 of
the 69 mangrove plant species found in the country. Based on
current research, it is believed that the Sundarbans may hold up
to 140 mangroves and coastal zone flora. At least, seven of
these mangrove species or species group are threatened and
require immediate conservation measures, viz., Aegiceras
corniculatum, Heritiera fomes, Kandelia kandel, Nypa
fruticans, Rhizophora spp., S. apetala and S. caseolaris.d
The local population relies heavily on the mangroves as it
provides fodder, fuel wood, tanbarks, fish, honey and
medicines.e The Sundarbans also provides a several significant
environmental services such as nutritional inputs to coastal
water, generation of nutrients by mangrove roots and biomass
deposition. The mangroves release about 6,000 tonnes/ha of
litter over the course of a year, contributing vast amounts of
c Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests, Government of West Bengal,
Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/con_ar_tr_sunderban.htm.
dAnamitra Anurag Danda and Gayathri Sriskanthan, “Indian Sundarbans
Delta: A Vision,” WWF Policy Document, 2011, March 2011.
e Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests, Government of West Bengal,
Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/en_habitat.htm.
organic nutrients. These biological processes have made the
brackish waters of the Sundarbans a unique nursery and
breeding ground of commercially and ecologically important
aquatic and marine fauna.f
Further, the mangrove swamps and backwaters form a
natural barrier to cyclones, tropical storms and tidal surges,
providing protection to the inhabited areasg and to the coastal
fringes and form a protective margin which stabilizes the
shoreline.h
As per the research conducted by the University of Calcutta
it is believed that the Sundarbans have soaked in 4,150,000,000
tonnes of carbon dioxide, valued at around $79 billion in the
international market.i
IV. THREATS
Sundarban area is cyclone-prone, monsoonal and low-
lying j, as a result of which changes in climate have
significantly impacted the area, flora, fauna and the population
living within it.
A. Increasing temperatures
Between 1980 and 2007, it has been observed that the
temperature of the waters in the Sundarbans has increased at an
accelerated rate of 0.5oC per decade compared to the observed
global sea surface temperature warming at the rate of 0.06oC
per decade.k This accelerated increase in temperature of the sea
has severe implications on aquatic life. This change greatly
impacts the Sundarbans area as it is an estuarine delta. Further,
it detrimentally affects the health of the mangrove ecosystem.l
B. Rising sea-levels
In the past 25 years, sea level has risen at a rate almost
double the global average. This is due to a combination of
factors including land subsistence patterns.m Due to continuous
submergence in higher water, as an implication of rise of sea
level, the plants are being noted to be shorter and narrower
with fewer branches and leaves resulting in lower rates of
photosynthesis and regeneration of the mangroves.n The sea
level rise is also affecting the availability of sediment, directly
impeding the establishment of new groves.
f Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”; Anamitra Anurag Danda and Gayathri
Sriskanthan, “Indian Sundarbans Delta: A Vision,” WWF Policy Document,
2011, March 2011.
g Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
h Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests, Government of West Bengal,
Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/en_habitat.htm.
i Prasanta Paul, “Sunderbans absorbs 4 cr tonnes carbon dioxide,” Deccan
Herald, May 31, 2012.
j Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
kCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
l Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
mCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
n Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
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In 2010 it was observed that, with the sea levels rising
ominously, the New Moore Island/ South Talpatti Island
disappeared. Scientists have predicted that the other low-lying
islands could also vanish as sea levels continue to rise.
C. Cyclones
It has been observed that there has been an increase in the
intensity of cyclonic storms hitting the Sundarbans between
1951 and 2010. Recent research suggests that such increase in
intensity may be attributed to an increase in sea surface
temperature.
During the occurrence of Cyclone Aila in 2009, a 400 km
stretch of embankment was breached and the waves crossed
over the height of the embankment and entered the flood
plains. The sea water got logged and more than 2 million
people were marooned for several days affecting not only
agriculture but also drinking water supply. Most of the thatched
houses were damaged. Additionally, the farmland became non-
productive due to salt water incursion in the soil.o Frequent
damage to property and crop failure due to cyclones and
thunderstorms has rendered a large population to be poverty
ridden. As a result, high levels of immigration to cities are
reported from here.
D. Rise in Salinity; Impact on Agriculture
Studies suggest that in the last two decades, the run off in
the eastern rivers of Sundarbans has decreased resulting in ever
increasing salinity and sea water-sulfate concentrations. The
decrease in fresh water run off has affected mangrove growth.
Further, agriculture is being affected because of the high levels
of salinity of the soils due to high tides, cyclones and storm
surges, and problems of water stagnation, sometimes even
beyond monsoon seasons.p
E. Change in agricultural patterns
According to the West Bengal Government, in 2009, the
agricultural area had shrunk between 2002 and 2009 from
2,149.615 square kilometers to 1,691.246 square kilometers.
The area suffers from a low intensity of cropping because
mono cropping of rice is practiced seasonally, and horticultural
crops are rarely grown. Further, only 12% of the cropped area
in the Sundarbans is irrigated through rainfed ponds, tanks and
canals; majority of the agricultural land is rainfed.q It has been
observed that rainfall has become erratic and its intensity has
increasedr causing further damage to the agricultural yield.
With continuous increase in population, agriculture
production in the region is not able to meet demand.
Historically, the main economic activity of rain-fed paddy
agriculture was made possible by the construction of earthen
embankments to keep brackish tidal water at bay and by
cultivating salt-tolerant paddy varieties such as Matla and
Hamilton. Such varieties could be cultivated on raised sections
o Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
p Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
q Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
rCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”..
of the islands even without embankments. However, while
searching for the six locally recalled salt-tolerant farmers'
paddy varieties; scientists have discovered the availability of
only two varieties; while the other salt resistant rice varieties
are believed to have been lost under the onslaught of India’s
“green revolution”.s
F. Deforestation
Between 1777 and 1971, continuous deforestation and land
reclamation activities have been carried out in the Sundarbans
region. t It has been observed that 5% of forest cover was lost
between 1989 and 2009. This deforestation has increased man-
animal conflict, local extirpation of several species and added
to the biological loss of the region. Further, clearing of forests
have not facilitated self-sustaining agriculture on the flood
plain, as it tends to be submerged under saline water during
high tides.
G. Pollution
Due to heavy siltation and disposal of solid waste from
adjacent cities, the rivers in the Sundarbans do not receive fresh
water from the upstream Ganges and are primarily tidal fed.
The Sundarbans receives an additional supply of fresh water
during monsoon which lasts for a period of May to October. u
A pronounced ecological change has evolved in this delta
due to huge discharges of untreated domestic and industrial
effluents carried by tributary rivers as well as the disposal of
contaminated mud from harbour dredging and from the rapid
emergence of the Haldia Port Complex, a major oil
disembarkment terminal in eastern India. The Sundarbans delta
has become susceptible to chemical pollutants such as heavy
metals which may have changed the estuary's geochemistry
and affected the local coastal environment. Due to a diversity
of inputs such as agricultural runoffs, wastewater and sewage
discharges, and agricultural wastes, maximum concentrations
of organochlorine pesticide residues were recorded at sites
located along the main stream of the Hugli (Ganges) estuary.
This has a disastrous impact on the biodiversity harboured by
mangroves.v
V. CHALLENGES AND DEFICITS
India has passed several policies and laws at the Central
and State levels in respect of protection of the Sundarbans and
measures have been taken to tackle the effects of climate
change. However, despite the high level of protection and legal
sanction granted to the mangrove forests on paper, there has
been large scale encroachment of people into the Sundarban
islands and diversion of forest land for agricultural purposes.
This has put a tremendous biotic pressure on the Sundarbans.
sAnamitra Anurag Danda and Gayathri Sriskanthan, “Indian Sundarbans
Delta: A Vision,” WWF Policy Document, 2011, March 2011; Krishnendu
Bandyopadhyay, “Two varieties of rice lost for ever in Aila-ravaged
Sunderbans,” Times of India, Jun 25, 2010.
t Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
u Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
vAnamitra Anurag Danda and Gayathri Sriskanthan, “Indian Sundarbans
Delta: A Vision,” WWF Policy Document, 2011, March 2011.
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A. Encroachment & Poverty
It is typically witnessed that any measure to remove
encroachments from the forested areas is likely to be strongly
opposed by local politicians as well as people. Sundarbans is
one of the most densely populated parts of India with a
population density of about 929 persons/square kilometers in
2001, which has increased to 1,082 persons per square
kilometers in 2011. With about 44 per cent of the population
living below the poverty line and only one degree/technical
college in every 250 square kilometers area, creation of
alternate job opportunities to remove some of the biotic
pressure off the Sundarbans is a distant dream. The economic
profile of the local population dismally lags behind the national
average. The per capita electricity consumption of the
Sundarban inhabiting Indian is one-fourteenth of the national
average, majority of households do not have access to
electricity and about 60 per cent of the households do not have
access to clean drinking water. About 87 per cent people in the
area live with some sort of food shortage and healthcare
infrastructure is in shambles. Approximately 33 percent of the
population does not even have access to a primary health care.w
Coverage of institutional banking and insurance facility in
Sundarbans is very low. Only about 10 per cent of the
population avails institutional banking and there is no
agriculture insurance. Absence of marketing and value addition
infrastructure do not allow better price for whatever the
agriculture, fishery and forest yield. This is especially
important in light of the fact that 78 per cent of the economy
and 65 per cent of local workers are dependent on agriculture
and there is an abject lack of any local industry.x
B. Over-exploitation of forest produce
Fishery and collection of non-timber forest produce do
supplement the meager agricultural income of the local
population; however rampant deforestation and overfishing
have put the environment under tremendous pressure. Fish
stock is dwindling because of a combination of
overexploitation and climatic changes. It has been noted that
fish density in shallow waters has reduced and the catch of
commercially important fish has declined. Further, increase in
demand for prawn products has led to the local population to
abandon sustainable traditional fishing practices and adopt
excessive prawn seed culture. This has led to irreparable harm
being caused to the environment due to erosion of the
mangrove eco-system which comprises of mud dykes that
protect the Sundarbans from the onslaught of the sea. Further,
this has led to the destruction of the mangrove trees whose
roots are essential to bind the mud dykes and the taking of a
heavy toll of fish seedlings, which will adversely affect the
delta's fish population. In the long run, this methodology of
fishing will not be a sustainable source of livelihood for the
local population.
C. Lack of effective disaster management program
Despite the fact that the Sundarbans is a cyclone prone area
and is heavily inhabited, there is a lack of an effective disaster
wCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
xCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
warning protocol and disaster shelters. y The problem of
recurring natural disasters such as cyclones is compounded by
the inaccessibility and remoteness of the delta, complete lack
of infrastructure (such as roads, hospitals) and an access to
limited resources. The continuous submergence of agricultural
lands and frequent cyclonic storms has compelled large number
of families to migrate as environmental refugees. As more and
more land continues to be claimed by rising sea waters, more
families find themselves joining the growing ranks of refugees.
An effective long term mitigation goal would be to provide
disaster resistant homes (to the extent possible) to the residents
of Sundarbans as well as construct more disaster shelters.
D. Increase in salinity
At the time of British colonization, large swathes of the
Sundarbans were cleared for agricultural purposes. Further, to
prevent ingress of sea water approximately 3,500 km long
embankments have been built over time along the bank of
creeks and along the sea shore. However, the embankment
impeded the natural process of sedimentation. The
embankments trapped silt choking the river and making the
channels increasingly shallow. As a direct result, while the
river beds were elevated, the flood plains remained at the same
height. As a consequence of which, the rainwater remained
stagnant in the floor plains for long periods of time. z
E. Spread of diseases
As a result of long periods of stagnation of water, the
population is at a greater risk from water borne diseases
resulting in increase in incidences of morbidity and mortality.
Similarly increase in intensity of cyclones is likely to cause
more injuries and deaths. Higher temperatures may lower
yields which already are not enough for the population of the
region.aa
F. Increase in man-animal conflict
Even as climate change adversely affects the production of
biomass and fruits on which the wild animals thrive and forest
land is lost due to submersion, there is an increased threat of
animals coming into greater direct conflict with man outside
the forests. bb A conflict situation has always been harmful for
both man and animal and has resulted in the death of either of
the two. This is particularly threatening to the existence of the
critically endangered Royal Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans
region that are historically known to prey on humans. In fact
several unfortunate tigers that have strayed into human habitat
have been killed due to fear of man-eating.
yCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
z Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
aa Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
bb Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
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VI. INDIAN LAWS AND REGULATIONS
A. Policies & Laws at Central & State level for
environmental protection
In India, environment protection finds its place under the
Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
enshrines Right to Life as a fundamental right of citizens and
has been broadly interpreted by the Indian judiciary to
encompass, amongst others, right to clean environment, right to
livelihood and right to live with dignity. Under the directive
principlescc, forming part of the Indian Constitution, the States
are duty bound to protect and improve the environment and
safeguard the forests and wildlife and it is a duty of every
citizen to protect and improve the national environment
including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have
compassion for living creatures. Further, under the Indian
Constitutiondd , local bodies consisting of elected
representatives have been entrusted with the responsibility of
safeguarding the local environmental capital stocks.
India is also a signatory to a number of multilateral
environmental agreements and conventionsee, including the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)ff, the
Kyoto Protocolgg and the Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD)hh. India is also a Party to related conventions, namely
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Flora and Faunaii, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
of International Importance, and the Convention on Migratory
Species.
India has set out an elaborate set of policies with respect to
conservation and governance of environment. One of the
prominent legislations is the National Environmental Policy,
2006. The National Environment Policy, 2006 is intended as a
guide and is based on the spirit of sustainable developmentjj.
Some of the principal objectives of the said policy are to
protect and conserve critical ecological systems and resources,
to ensure equitable access to environmental resources and
quality for all sections of society, to ensure judicious use of
environmental resources to meet the needs and aspirations of
the present and future generations and to integrate
environmental concerns into policies, plans, programmes, and
projects for economic and social development.
The National Forest Policy, 1988 was prepared with the
primary objective of ensuring environmental stability and
maintenance of ecological balance including atmospheric
equilibrium which are vital for sustenance of all life forms,
cc Articles 48 A and 51 A (g) of the Constitution of India
dd Amendment No. 73 of 1993
eeMoEF. June 10, 2012. http://moef.nic.in/divisions/ic/wssd/doc2/ch2.html.
ff India signed the UNFCCC in June, 1992 and ratified it in November 1993.
The primary goals of the UNFCCC were to stabilize greenhouse gas
emissions at levels that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference
with the global climate.
gg India acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in August 2002.
hh India ratified the CBD on February 18, 1994.
ii India became a party in 1976: The aim of the said convention is to control or
prevent international commercial trade in endangered species or products
derived from them.
jj The said policy provides that while conservation of environmental
resources is necessary to secure livelihoods and well-being of all, the most
secure basis for conservation is to ensure that people dependent on particular
resources obtain better livelihoods from the fact of conservation, than from
degradation of the resource.
human, animal and plant. The said policy specifically stipulates
that derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated
to this principal aim. It is the basic framework of the National
Biodiversity Action Plan, formulated in 2008 to consolidate
and augment existing strategies and programmes relating to
biodiversity. It recognizes the devastating impact of climate
change on biodiversity and proposes several action points to
mitigate this which includes research into this area and policy
making. The National Policy and Macro-level Action Strategy
on Biodiversity was developed in 1999 to consolidate and
augment the then existing strategies and programmes relating
to biodiversity. In India, one primary method of conservation
of biodiversity is by way of according special status and
protection to biodiversity rich areas by declaring them as
national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, and
ecologically fragile and sensitive areas.
Additionally, the Government of India announced the
National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in June
2008. Directly linking development and climate change and in
an attempt to tackle climate change and its devastating impact,
the said policy sets out 8 missions that focus on solar energy,
energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, sustaining
Himalayan eco-system, green India, sustainable agriculture and
strategic knowledge for climate care. It outlines India’s
national strategy to enable it to adapt to climate change and
enhance the ecological sustainability of India’s development
path. Pursuant to the NAPCC, the Government of West Bengal
has proposed the West Bengal State Action Plan on Climate
Change that is currently in draft stage. It recognizes
Sundarbans as one of the most vulnerable regions vis-à-vis
climate change in West Bengal. It identifies threats, proposes
several mitigation strategies to tackle climate change and
proposes to set aside certain dedicated funds in identified time
periods to implement this policy.
The Indian environment legislative framework broadly
comprises of the Environment Protection Act, 1986kk , the
Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974ll, and
the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981mm . The
conservation of biodiversity and forests is primarily governed
by the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act,
kk The said Act is an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for
the co-ordination of Central and State authorities established under the Water
(Prevention and Control) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control) Act,
1981. Under the said Act, the Central Government is empowered to take
measures necessary to protect and improve the quality of the environment by,
among others, setting standards for emissions and discharges, regulating the
location of industries and management of hazardous wastes.
ll The said Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies beyond a
given standard, and lays down penalties for non-compliance.
mm The said Act provides means for the control and abatement of air pollution.
The Act seeks to combat air pollution by prohibiting the use of polluting fuels
and substances, as well as by regulating appliances that give rise to air
pollution.
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1980nn, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLP Act) oo and
the Biodiversity Act, 2002pp.
The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is the
focal point in the Government of India for the implementation
of the international environment conventions and for
conservation of biodiversity. Roles of conservation of
biodiversity and in relation to climate change are also borne by
several other Indian Ministries and Departments, in light of the
principal policy and Acts that they are each governed by.
B. Protection & Conservation of Sundarbans
1) Sundarban Biosphere
In addition to all of the above and pursuant to the
provisions of the WLP Act, the MoEF declared the
entire 9630 sq. km. of Sundarban as the Sundarban
Biosphere Reserve in 1989 as part of the Man and
Biosphere Programme accepted in the general
conference of the UNESCO in 1970.
The forested areas of the Indian Surdarbans have
been designated as the Sundarban Tiger Reserve which
constitutes of the Sundarban National Park and the
Sajnekhali Wild Life Sanctuary, briefly discussed
below. An additional 1680 squarekm in the western
side of Sundarbans, has the Lothian Wild Life
Sanctuary, the Haliday Island Wild Life Sanctuary and
a designated reserved forest. This area allows limited
human intervention for extracting non timber forest
products. qq
The broad objectives of the programme of the
biosphere reserve are primarily (a) identification and
demarcation of the eco-system; (b) ecologically
compatible economic development of the intertidal
zone; and (c) research, training, monitoring etc. It also
involves, the development of fishery, particularly
prawn-culture, apiary, oyester-culure, mushroom-
culture, pearl-culture, apart from providing basic needs
of life including improving communication through
water and removing illiteracy. rr
Establishment of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve,
the conservation and management of Sundarban
mangroves and intergrated afforestation and eco-
development project are all 100% centrally sponsored
schemes.
2) Sundarban Tiger Reserve
nn With the aim to protect and conserve forests, the said Act restricts the
powers of the State in respect of de-reservation of forests and use of forestland
for non-forest purposes.
oo The said Act provides for protection to listed species of flora and fauna and
establishes a network of ecologically-important protected areas and empowers
the Central and State governments to declare any area a wildlife sanctuary,
national park or closed area.
pp The said Act, amongst others, regulates access to biological resources and
associated traditional knowledge so as to ensure equitable sharing of benefits
arising out of their use.
qq Government of West Bengal, Government of India, “West Bengal State
Action Plan on Climate Change”.
rr Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests, Government of West Bengal,
Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/con_ar_sunderban.htm.
The Sundarban, in its eastern side, has an area of
2,585 square kilometres demarcated for conservation of
tigers i.e. the Sundarban Tiger Reserve, divided into
core and buffer zones. The core zone consists of the
Sundarban National Park having an area of
approximately 1,330.12 square kilometres. Area
outside the core zone is designated as the buffer zone
and houses the Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary with an
area of 362.33 square kilometres. The core areas have
been notified as a ‘Critical Tiger Habitat’ having an
inviolate area of 1,699.62 square kilometres. The
remaining area of 885.27 square kilometres has been
designated as a buffer zone.
Government of India provides 100% funds for non-
recurring expenditures and 50% for recurring
expenditures in respect of Project Tiger implemented in
Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and the State Government
contributes 50% of the fund from State Plan for
recurring expenditures.
3) Sundarban Affairs Department & Sundarban
Development Board
In January 1994, Sundarban Affairs Department was
created to give an impetus to the development efforts in
Sundarban region and Sundarban Development Board,
which was set up in 1973, was placed under the said
Department. Sundarban Affairs Department
implements developmental activities through
Sundarban Development Board.
The functions entrusted to the Sundarban
Development are primarily (a) formulation of
integrated programme for effective utilization of the
resources placed at its disposal; (b) co-ordination and
supervision of execution of plans for the development
of the region; and (c) review and evaluation of the
progress of implementation and revision of policies and
measures in light of such findings.
VII. CRITICISM OF PROTECTION STRATEGIES
One of the criticisms of the protection strategies imposed
by the Government of India has been in respect of the
multitude of institutes set up for its protection, including the
split of responsibilities between Central and State level
organizations. For example, it may be noted that the entire
Sundarbans (both the forested as well as the inhabited areas)
has been designated as a biosphere reserve by the Central
Government. However, while the areas demarcated as
protected forests for tiger conservation and for the protection of
the coastal zone are being regulated directly by the Central
Government, the inhabited areas are governed by the State
Government. This is a cause for communication breakdown,
loss of time and resources and duplication of work between the
Central and State forces. Conservationists have also quoted
instances where, due to overlapping responsibilities, in respect
of the Sundarbans Affairs Department and Sundarbans
Development Board budget and resources such as manpower
for undertaking certain works have been inadvertently split
between the two institutes.
International Scientific Journal
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13
With increasing sea ingress and rising salinity, there is an
urgent need to improve water management and release
increased fresh water into the Sundarbans. However, due to
several domestic compulsions, there has been a lack of
initiative in terms of release and management of the freshwater
into the Sundarbans.
VIII. MITIGATION STRATEGIES
Over the last several years, India has been pursuing a policy
of energy conservation and increased usage of renewable
energy technologies. These measures have found legislative
and regulatory backing. Taking this forward, the Central
Government of India and the State Government of West
Bengal are currently in the process of finalising an action plan,
titled West Bengal State Action Plan on Climate Change’ to
address the problem of climate change and its impact on the
Sundarbans as well as take steps for poverty alleviation. Noting
the biological importance of the Sundarbans as well the
extreme human dependence on it sustenance, we believe that
neither a human-centric nor a pure conservation approach
would help the long term health of the delta. While the local
population recognizes the economic importance of the forests,
extreme poverty has forced many to adopt certain practices that
are harming the Sundarbans, already facing the onslaught of
climate change. While making the entire Sundarbans or
afforestation of all reclaimed areas may invite a sharp reaction
from the millions of people inhabiting the area, we believe that
the Government of India must take a middle ground approach
to balance out conservation needs of the area along with the
human needs of the people. In this regard, in addition to India
continuing to reduce its emissions and liaise with all
governments to collectively reduce emissions at an accelerated
pace, we propose a series of short-term as well as long-term
steps to protect biodiversity of the Sundarbans and also
improve the living conditions of the people living in the area to
help reduce the biotic pressure on the delta and our mitigation
strategies are set out below:
A. Mitigation Strategies that may be implemented
immediately
1) Zoning Sundarbans according to vulnerability: The
Government of West Bengal should demarcate specific areas of
the Sundarbans that are particularly susceptible to cyclonic
storms. Upon completion of such demarcation, people living in
and around the high-risk areas in the Sundarbans should be
strategically relocated to safe inland areas. This is particularly
relevant for those people who live in the critically vulnerable
areas of islands that are submerging or are frequently
devastated by cyclonic storms. Additionally, scientists have
noted that increased human and animal interaction has led to
man-animal conflict. Therefore, protection patrols, surveillance
of non-forest activities in the Sundarbans areas and deployment
of rapid action forces in case of conflict situations should be
deployed at the earliest. Such measures would go a long way in
protecting the endangered animals in the region and building a
relationship of trust between the people, regulators and
forests.ss
2) Regional planning and rehabilitation & relocation:
Relocation of the population would be ineffective if the people
are not given alternative job opportunities. Such alternate job
opportunities could include actively participating in the
conservation of Sundarbans (with individuals being deployed
as forest guards or by generating employment in the tourism
industry) or being provided jobs in cities and settlements close
to Sundarbans. The long term sustenance of the Sundarbans is
based on the people owning an economic stake in its
conservation. Since the Sundarbans are located close to
Kolkata and other urban settlements, the proximity could be
utilised to promote tourism in the delta, which would bring
along with it additional sources of income. tt
3) Creating opportunities that don’t depend on nature:
For successful rehabilitation and relocation, it is imperative
that opportunities be provided that do not depend upon nature.
The State Government will be required to invest in creation of
infrastructual facilities, which while providing employment
opportunities at the short term, will help the Sundarbans be a
more accessible area for dissemination of knowledge. Further,
investments are required to provide education and health to the
local people.
4) Developing efficient disaster management systems: The
State Government must put in place effective early warnings
systems. This must be communicated to the people in real time
and the people must be educated on exactly what to do in such
circumstances. The State Government has to improve its
evacuation systems, put in place rapid action response teams
and be more adept and efficient in providing supplies and first
aid to people and animals caught in such disasters. Further,
there is a pressing requirement to set up animal and human
flood relief centres.
5) Protection & distribution of saline resistant food grains
and seeds: Due to the extinction of certain traditional saline-
resistant rice vartieties as well as a marked increase in the
salinity in the region, the State Government must protect
remaining saline-resistant food grains and seeds that are saline
resistant as well as increase distribution of such seeds at a
subsidised rate to the local population.
B. Long Term Mitigation Strategies
1) Bolstering existing livelihood patterns: Bolstering
existing livelihood patterns will require research and
infrastructural support from Central and State Governments.
Since the majority of Sundarbans practices monoculture of
rice, it is imperative that intensification and diversification of
agricultural practices be carried out on a long term basis. uu
Further, research in the field of saline resistance by plants and
production and distribution of such saline-resistant seeds as
ssCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
ttCenter for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate: Impact,
vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
uu Center for Science and Environment, “Living with changing climate:
Impact, vulnerability and adaptation challenges in Indian Sundarbans”.
International Scientific Journal
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14
well as dissemination of knowledge of better and more
scientific agricultural methodoligies would help allievate the
severe food shortage faced by the Sundarbans farmers
currently. Further, through creation of robust storage and
marketing infrastructure, the people could access other
markets to sell their produce which would ensure better
economic returns.
2) Construction of disaster resistant homes: Following a
tidal surge in 2007, GOAL piloted an intervention to build
disaster resistant houses for the poor residents of the
Sundarbans. Since most homes built in the Sundarbans are
made of mud and wattle, the organisation chose to use
vernacular architecture with modern disaster resistant
technology. Based on this, it was noted that in 2007 when
cyclone Aila hit the Sundarbans, all 265 homes constructed by
GOAL mostly withstood the natural disaster. The Government
should liaise with the organization to build more such homes
on a large scale basis. The Government’s intervention is
especially required as poor farmers may require assistance in
replacement of certain construction material.
3) Awareness and information: The Central and the State
Governments must educate the people about climate change
and methods of adaptation. It has been observed that over a
period of time the people have lost their traditional knowledge
but have not been able to replace it with new or mainstream
knowledge. The Government should conduct training and
mass awareness programs in alliance with non-governmental
organisations to ensure that the people are aware of the threats
of climate change as well as measures to reduce their own
carbon foot print in their daily lives.
4) Tourism versus Eco-tourism: It has been noted that in
recent years tourism has increased exponentially in Sundarban
Tiger Reserve. Currently close to 100,000 tourists, including
foreign tourists, visit the area annually.vv However, tourists are
not practising ‘eco-tourism’ and waste products such as plastic
have been found in the core areas of the national park. The
State Government should take measures to ensure that tourists
adhere to eco-tourism i.e. tourism that involves travelling to
relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specified
objectives of studying, admiring and enjoying the sceneries
and its wild plants and animals, as well as in existing cultural
aspects found in these areas. Thus eco-tourism, differing from
purely commercial tourism or mass tourism, would require
lesser infrastructure development and lower impact on the
environment, while simultaneously providing employment
opportunities to the local people. ww
5) Embankments: The creation of a 3,500 kilometer
embankment across the Sundarbans has created a problem of
trapped silt, shallow channels and stagnation of water. The
State Government needs to strategise new embankment
engineering and resources should be channelized towards in-
vv Wild Bengal. Directorate of Forests, Government of West Bengal,
Government of India. June 10, 2012.
http://www.wildbengal.com/urls/con_ar_tr_sunderban.htm.
ww West Bengal Forest Department. June 10, 2012.
http://westbengalforest.gov.in/urls_all/activities_eco_tourism.html.
depth research on what kind of embankment in which areas
would last without causing collateral damages. Further, the
Government must construct/retrofit embankments along the
sea as well as rivers based on the likely return periods and
raise heights to a maximum to prevent storm surges.
6) Adaptation Governance: Management of Sundarbans
within the context of the challenges faced due to climate
change should be the prime focus of the Government’s policy.
At the first level, successful adaptation governance in
Sundarban will depend on carrying out extensive research
about how the climate change impacts interact with
developmental failures. At the second, it would be key to
understand how these findings lead to better management
policies, followed by how effectively they can be
implemented. Success of these two steps will depend on how
aware the population is about the changes in the natural
systems, interpret their implications and make informed
choices about the solutions provided by the Government.
7) Release of additional fresh water: The rise in salinity in
the Sundarbans has been exacerbated by rise in sea levels and
deep ingress by saline water. However, a primary cause for
rise in salinity and resultant change in the ecological patterns
is because of increased consumption of upstream freshwater
and release for very little freshwater into the Sundarbans. The
lack of freshwater has causd several creeks to turn completely
saline, with only the monsoons providing freshwater supply.
The Government will be required to increase the supply of
freshwater into the Sundarbans to ensure the existence of the
area as an estuarine delta.
8) Afforestation programs: Certain portions of the
Sundarbans have been designated as ‘deforested mangrove
swamps’, mostly in the western and central regions of the
delta. Since these areas are uninhabited, the Government must
carry out afforestation programs at the earnest to ensure that
the loss of mangrive cover is offset to the maximum extent
possible. Further, the Government should invest in studies in
research to identify the level of tolerance of the various
existing mangrove species
9) Protection of threatened species: The MoEF and the
Government of West Bengal should jointly take steps to
identify both floral and faunal species, especially the Heritiera
fomes or ‘Sundari’ mangrove species and identify strategies
for their conservation and protection.
10) International Funding: For a poor country such as
India, development activities in itself are an expensive
investment. The added pressure of emmission cuts and
adoption of cleaner energy technologies have added an
additional financial burdens that needs to be dealt with. The
additional climate burden is a result of unchecked emissions in
the developed world over the last two centuries and has little
to do with the way locals in India have lived for ages.
Therefore, adoption of energy efficient technology as well as
measures to allievate problems caused by climate change
would require international funding arrangements to offset the
incremental cost of development and adaptation. As an equal
measure, the Government of India should continue to reduce
International Scientific Journal
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15
its emmissions as well as educate the local population in
Sundarbans regarding their own responsibilities and in
addressing their own failures. It may be noted that under the
twelveth Five-Year Plan (2012-2017), the Central Government
intends to invest approximately Rs. 2 trillion through various
missions. The report seeks setting up of a dedicated structure
of governance to oversee the different programmes under the
said twelveth Plan with such large funds to be invested. The
agriculture mission under the National Action Plan on Climate
Change alone is to spend upwards of Rs. 2 trillion over five
years to make the primary sector more resilient to inevitable
changes in climate change. The report pointed out that the
Government already spends 2.8% of its GDP on programmes
that bring adaptation benefits to people.
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[4] BBC News Report, “Disputed Bay of Bengal island vanishes say
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2012. http://www.sadepartmentwb.org/.
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International Scientific Journal
Environmental Science
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    • Nevertheless climate change participating in melting land ice, mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets that are expanding the water level of the ocean. And even saltwater is intruding into the groundwater, the surface water and soil that severely threatened the health of mangrove forest as well as the wildlife and hydrological parameters (Mahadevia and Vikas, 2012). It has also been reported that Sundarban mangrove forest is being exploited at a large scale as never seen before manner with climatic disturbances (Uddin, 2013).
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Sundarban forest, known as the mangrove protection region by the UNESCO for numerous world endangered species, is located in the southwest of Bangladesh that lies between the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. It is the habitat of Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris) which is a world largest endangered mammal species and can only be adapted for surviving in the mangrove forests. Also, other endangered species including Heritiera fomes, Excoecaria agallocha, and Ceriops decandra are largely distributed in the mangrove forest but the rise of mean sea level in 2100 will resulted in 77% decrease of their distributions, so the conservation of the region is so imminent. Thus, ecological service value of Sundarban mangrove with US $ 402 million in 2001 will be reduced by 45% in 2100. In this study, such potential impacts of ecological service on climate change were analyzed on the Sundarban mangrove forest in Bangladesh. The impacts of climate change on the Sundarban mangrove were projected considering various primary resources that are being exploited in the ecosystem and ecological physiography of the mangrove. Secondary information on forest dependent livelihoods degrading condition, reducing ecosystem services and degrading physiographic characteristics of Sundarban mangrove forest were collected and projected the apparent impacts. Further studies should be quantified about long-term impacts of climate change on all the ecosystem services and explore on the potential loss of biodiversity and opportunities in the future for better conservation.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2017 · Environmental Health Insights
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Aims: Human-tiger conflict (HTC) is a serious public health issue in Sundarban Reserve Forest, India. HTC is a continued concern for the significant mortality and morbidity of both human and tiger population. This is the first comprehensive report on Sundarban tiger-human conflicts and its impact on widows whose husbands were killed by tigers. The study attempts to explore the situation analysis of HTC and the aftermath of the incident including bereavement and coping, the cultural stigma related to being killed by a tiger and the consequent discrimination, deprivation, and social rejection, and the impact on the mental health of the tiger-widows. Methods: This is a three-phase ethnographic research with a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. In the first phase, a door-to-door village survey (3,084 households) was carried out in two villages of Sundarban, which are adjacent to the Reserve Forest, in which the incidents of human-animal conflicts and the 65 tiger-widows identified were documented. In the second phase, the 65 tiger-widows were studied to explore the ecodemography of tiger attacks and tiger-widows alongside the stigma issue by using a stigma questionnaire (n = 49). The stigma burden was compared with normal widows (n = 21) and snake-bite widows (n = 18). In the third phase, the psychosocial and cultural dimensions related to tiger attacks were studied by using in-depth interviews (IDI) of the tiger-widows, focus-group discussions (FGD), and participatory mapping in the community. Clinical examinations of the mental health of the widows were also carried out in this phase. Results: The mean age of the 65 widows was 43.49 ± 9.58 years. Of this, 12.3% of the widows had remarried and only 4.6% of the widows were literate. In all, 67.2% of all tiger attacks occurred as a result of illegal forest entry. The main livelihood of the former husbands of the widows were 43.8% wood cutting, 28.1% fishing, 10.9% crab catching, 9.4% tiger prawn seed (juvenile prawn), and 4.7% honey collection. The maximum number of attacks took place in the months of December (24.6%) and November (13.9%). The majority of incidences happened during the morning hours (47.7%) of the day. Of the cases, 86.1% were attacked while the person was engaged in livelihood activity. In all, 57.4% widows are recorded as living "below the poverty line". Currently, 45.5% widows earn their living by laboring work followed by forest-based livelihood activities (30%) and begging (5.2%). Tiger-widows differed significantly (P < 0.001) from both normal and snake-bite widows on all stigma cluster scores and the total score. Of the tiger-widows, 44% were shown to be suffering from some designated mental illness. IDIs and FGDs helped to unfold the cultural construct of stigma related to tiger-killing. This can be seen in how the tiger-widows' quality of life has been negatively impacted in the way their economic and social security, health, remarriage opportunities, and child upbringing is restricted, along with a multitude of posttrauma psychological scars, deprivation, abuse, and exploitation. Conclusions: The study highlights the multitude of sufferings experienced by the tiger-widows including the issues of the gender aspect of HTC and the ecopsychiatric risk factors of tiger attacks combined with the background of local sociocultural beliefs and practices. It is well known that a similar problem also exists in Bangladesh Sundarban as well, in which case it may be that a strong and practical administrative strategy for sustainable alternative income generation and a balanced conservation policy with integrated participatory forest management may go to save both human and tiger. A community ecocultural mental health program involving all the stakeholders (community, gram panchayat, and forest department) and aiming to address and even eradicate the cultural stigma of tiger attack may help to reduce the stigma burden and socicultural discrimination currently experienced by the tiger-widows.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016