Sea rise, salinity force Sunderbans inhabitants to migrate

A rapid rise in the sea level, salinity and overall climate change in the Sunderbans has triggered migration of inhabitants from several blocks in the forest to other parts of the country.

Sunderbans (WB): A rapid rise in the sea level, salinity and overall climate change in the Sunderbans has triggered migration of inhabitants from several blocks in the forest to other parts of the country.

"The human habitation in several blocks of the Sunderbans has witnessed migration in the last few years to other parts of the country on account of the rise in sea level and salinity in water," a senior consultant with the World Bank, Sanjay Gupta, told PTI.

The migration of the inhabitants of Sunderbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, has in turn brought about a change in the socio-economic condition of the area.

According to a research report prepared by the World Bank, two kinds of migration are taking place - seasonal and permanent.

"It is true migration is taking place in several parts of the Sunderbans and if this is not checked by using the resources for capacity building of the inhabitants, it could lead to massive migration in the coming years," WWF consultant on Sunderbans Ratul Saha told PTI.

According to the world bank report, the findings of the Non Lending Technical Assistance (NLTA) stated that nearly 30 per cent of the households have a family member who migrates in search of work.

According to Saha, the rising sea level and increasing salinity have deprived the people living in core Sunderbans areas of their main sources of livelihood - agriculture and fishing.

"Due to rise in the sea level, large parcels of agricultural land have gone under water and the rising level of salinity has brought down the quantity of fishes ," Saha said.

Saha, while citing a WWF report said that more than 7,000 people have already been displaced in the last 30 years due to climate change and 70,000 more people are at a high risk of displacement.

In the aftermath of the Cyclone Aila in 2009, Sonargoan village, which was the worst hit, has faced severe migration with most of the families having migrated to Kolkata.

"After Aila, we are yet to get back to the mainstream, Our fields are not yet fit for cultivation. The yield of fish has come down too. So in order to survive, most of the male members have either migrated alone to other parts of the country or with his entire family," said Satinath, a 50 year old resident of Sonargaon.

Satinath himself has been working as a migratory labour in the Andamans for the last three years. He has lost his agricultural land to the rising sea as his hut made of mud and bamboo is now on the edge of the river.

During the high tide the area near his house gets submerged by water and he has to swim if he has to enter the village.

"Who wants to leave his home? But we have no other options, If we stay back here we will die of starvation," Satinath said.

The World Bank report stated that some people go to places like Mumbai, Surat, Chennai, Andaman and Bengaluru in search of work and stay there for upto two years.

Migration also takes place to other districts of the state during the harvesting season as well as to Kolkata and neighbouring areas, where they stay for two-three months.

Male migrants work in masonry, house painting and road construction. The female migrants work as maids and in cottage industries.

According to Subhas Acharya, a former director with Sunderban Development Board, who now works with several NGOs as consultant on Sunderbans, feels that both the state government and the central government should work for capacity building for the people of Sunderbans.

"If you are able to develop the capacity building techniques of the people of Sunderbans in accordance with the bio-diversity, then this migration at least in search of employment will stop," Acharya said.

Acharya cited the example of Bally village, where the capacity building measures such as establishments of hatcheries, ponds, vegetation and honey bee farming have changed the socio-economic conditions of the villages.

Acharya also pointed out that seasonal migration has given rise to outbreak of diseases which people carry home from outside like HIV, Gonorrohea and STMs.

While conceding that migration has been a problem that the state government is trying to grapple with, state Sunderbans Affairs Minister Manutram Pakhira said since Aila happened in 2009, the state government had taken steps to address the issue. 

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