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Cyclones in the Sundarbans: Impact of Climate Change

Sundarbans meaning ‘the beautiful forest’ (in Bengali dialect), is a global tourist attraction. The unique biodiversity of Sundarbans and the magnificent dense forest of Sundari trees have taken it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, over the last few years, climate change has had a huge impact on the islanders of Sundarbans. The hungry tides and frequent cyclones in the Sundarbans have brought several islands under the threat of extinction. 

On its mission to end hunger, PayBito reached the hunger-stricken parts of Sundarbans, to conduct its ‘Brokering World Hunger Away’ movement. PayBito was a ray of hope to the hungry hopeless villagers. While thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Sundarbans every year, the islands are sinking every minute. Among several islands, Ghoramara island is sinking every year, due to climate change problems and increasing river levels. The villagers of the island migrated and shifted to other nearby islands such as Sagar Island, Gosaba Islands, etc. 

PayBito team traveled across different islands and discovered the reality of the Sundarban islanders. Here’s the story of survivors from Ghoramara island. 

Also Read: A Childhood Stolen: Aseema’s Experience as a Sex Trafficking Victim

Devastating Impact of Frequent Cyclones in the Sundarbans’ Ghoramara Village

Since the Bulbul cyclone in Sundarbans, the villagers are struggling to have a proper nutritious meal at least once a day. According to the Weather Underground, Sundarbans are in close proximity to the Bay of Bengal, where cyclones frequently originate. Among 35 dangerous cyclones, 26 of these originated from the northeastern curve of the Indian Ocean. 

In villages like Ghoramara, several families have been forced to move out of the island, while others are still struggling to make ends meet. Over the few years, ferry boat activities have risen with several women, men, cattle, and children traveling to and fro from Ghoramara, to the nearest mainland of Kakdwip. The ferry takes at least forty minutes to reach Kakdwip mainland from Ghoramara island and takes at least two such trips every month. 

PayBito on its visit to Ghoramara island, recognized that one of the leading causes of hunger in Sundarbans is climate change. Heavy rains, rising sea levels, and frequent floods and cyclones in the Sundarbans are all the effects of climate change. This has made life extremely difficult for the villagers of Ghoramara. Frequent floods caused soil erosion over the years, which has left the island as nothing but an isolated floating piece of the island in the Hooghly region. 

I had to leave my house forever….”: A Victim Of Cyclones in the Sundarbans

While the islanders were still struggling to recover from the damages caused by Bulbul (2019), and Amphan (2020), cyclone Yaas in 2021 hit the islands of Sundarbans. Ghoramara Island in the Sagar block took the worst hit. High tides and cyclones ripped apart the entire island within twenty minutes. Sunflower fields, paddy fields, betel crops, and the houses of the villagers were all destroyed in one hit. 

The PayBito team met Abdul Khatoon in the Gosaba village, who was an inhabitant of the Ghoramara village and interviewed him. He is a migrant from the Ghoramara village, who lost everything due to frequent cyclones, and high tides. 

“When cyclone Yaas hit our village in 2021, we were all taken to the nearest cyclone center. Within twenty minutes, the entire island was underwater. When the cyclone was over, we came back, but there was nothing left. My house was eaten up by the hungry tide. I couldn’t differentiate between the house pond, and the house, as everything was underwater.”

-Abdul Khatoon

Over the years, climate change has severely impacted the islands. Frequent cyclones in the Sundarbans have titled the area the ‘Cyclone Capital of India’. The rising seawater, and the deadly cyclones, are forcing people to leave their homes. Several houses, trees, and mangroves are destroyed leaving people with no homes, no food, and no fresh water to drink. 

“We were living under a sheet of plastic, with no food or water to consume. My son was scared and crying left with no home. We lived on rainwater for the next three days, until we finally received help. After living for a week in a local school, the water finally went down, leaving river sediments on our land. I had to leave my house forever….”

After living in a difficult situation for three days, Abdul and his family finally received help. However, since his house was entirely destroyed by the cyclone, he had to leave his house forever and took shelter in a nearby school. 

A local development officer from Sagar block came forward to help them with proper medical care and provide them shelter in a safe area. Several people along with Abdul’s family were forced to shift and leave their house forever. While many people started living as migrants in Sagar block, Abdul had a distant relative in the Gosaba village and shifted there with his family. This is where, the PayBito team met and interviewed Abdul, to hear his side of the story. 

Sinking Island of Ghoramara: But Why?

The hungry tides kept sinking the island of Ghoramara. After this, the state administration decided to take action and evacuated the entire island. Today the island is halfway underwater. With the increasing impact of climate change, the island might soon sink forever. 

A study was conducted in 2014, on climate change, and frequent cyclones in the Sundarbans. The complicated hydro-dynamic conditions and rising sea levels have caused severe erosion in the coastal areas of Ghoramara village. In 1975, the Ghoramara village covered 8.51 square kilometers, while in 2012, the land decreased to 4.43 square kilometers. The loss of the ecosystem, and repeated displacement led to an increase in the rate of migration among the villagers. 

Some villagers, despite their poor luck, stick together to survive in the village. When the PayBito team took the ferry from Kakdwip to Ghoramara, they roamed the village and found 70year old Asha Rahman. 

“My Village is Floating…..”: 70yr Old Asha Refuses to Quit

Frequent Cyclones in Sundarbans have hit the village of Ghoramara the worst. While half of the village is empty, there are still around a hundred people who refuse to quit. One of them is the brave Asha Rahman, a 70yr old lady who is ready to die in her own house. 

“Amar desh bhasche (my village is floating). I was born here, and I have been living in this village forever. I had kids in this house and lived happily for years. I will die fighting, but I will never leave my house.”

Asha’s determination and strong willpower have encouraged several other people in the village to fight for their lives. Even during high tides, the village sinks for several days. 

“We travel to kakdwip cyclone shelter during high tides in Ghoramara and come back when the water goes down. This takes place at least twice a month.”

Every month, the people in Ghoramara travel forty minutes in a ferry boat to the nearest village of Kakdwip and take shelter to keep themselves safe during high tides. They return back when the water goes down. 

The Future Ahead

With frequent cyclones in the Sundarbans, the struggle of people in Ghoramara is a stark reminder of the future that awaits us. Climate change is a global threat, and if no action is taken, we all might be underwater in the coming years. It includes warmer temperatures, a warm atmosphere, acidic oceans, and large changes in precipitation patterns. To change the future, it’s important to take necessary measures and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The more emits occur, the larger future changes will occur.

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