Sundarbans: Crusade launched against climate change
Sundarbans: Battling climate change, hundreds of women from all over the fragile islands of Sundarbans have now turned into crusaders by guarding their hamlets with mangrove belts.
Their husbands had once cleared these mangroves for firewood but now they realize that only the mangroves can act as sentinels against floods and cyclonic storms, the intensity and frequency of which has increased due to climate change.
In Patharpratima block's West Surendranagar village 30-year-old Anindita Das, who leads a women self-help group, finishes her household chores quickly in the morning and starts planting mangrove saplings bordering the banks of the river which had played havoc during the 2009 cyclonic storm Aila.
Along with eight such self-help groups and funding from international NGO Save the Children, around 90 women in this village began by growing mangrove saplings in small nurseries close to their huts.
"In a span of three-four months we prepared around 170,000 saplings which are being planted along the banks over 14 hectare land," Das told PTI in an interview.
She is one of the hundreds of women who are now working in groups as climate change warriors in various areas of the UNESCO World Heritage site, famed for its Royal Bengal Tigers and biodiversity.
The unique ecosystem of mangroves, characterised by roots that grow upward from the mud, acts as a natural protection against cyclones and tsunamis besides fighting strong tidal waves which eat islands by eroding soil.
Due to rising sea levels as a result of global warming, a report prepared by Jadavpur University and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) estimates that out of five million people living in the delta, one million will become climate change refugees by 2050.
After the group of women finish the plantation by this month their next battle will be to protect them from being axed for firewood.
"It is like a baby for us since we are growing and planting it with our own hands. We are telling everyone in the village including men and children to help us protect them. We will make sure that nobody cuts them for firewood when they mature," said 26-year-old Bijoli Rana.
"We have noticed that villages which are guarded by mangroves face less risk against tidal waves and floods. Even during Aila, such areas faced less damage when compared with those with only concrete embankments," said river expert Kalyan Rudra.
Mangrove experts say the plantation also regenerates the degraded biodiversity resources and protects the age-old earthen embankments which is the lifeline for the people of Sundarbans, a three-hour drive from Kolkata.
The mangrove plantation project is not only generating employment but also empowering women.
"Instead of involving contractors, we have trained and then employed these women to do the work. We are noticing that the project is also slowly empowering women at the grassroot level," said Gopal Pramanik, president of the Sundarban Social Development Centre, which is implementing the project in many villages.