The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world and home to 4.5 million people. Out of Sundarbans’ 102 islands, 54 between India and Bangladesh have inhabitants. Almost 70% of these Sundarbans live below the poverty line. To make matters worse, the region has suffered 13 supercyclones in the past 23 years, with the most recent occurring in 2020. To address the adversity that these people face, the governments of India and Bangladesh are exploring avenues to improve the evolving landscape of the Sundarbans.

The Situation in the Sundarbans

The islands act as a shield, protecting major areas of India and Bangladesh by taking the brunt of the cyclones. Since 2019 alone, the islands faced the wrath of cyclones Fani (May 2019), Bulbul (November 2019) and the lethal Amphan (May 2020). These cyclones constitute a concern for both the present and future. The islands have been unable to recuperate fully. The older cyclones destroyed their embankments, affected the salinity of the soil and overwhelmed their vulnerable agricultural economies.

The islands of the Sundarbans were able to act as a shield because of their previously dense mangrove cover. But now, that cover has experienced compromise due to the felling of trees and the increasing temperature of the water. The forest has also absorbed the continuous shocks of the onslaught of the cyclones. The environmental disasters quickly affected the Sundarbans’ economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, saturating the agricultural land with salt.

Advancing the Ongoing Work

The Government of West Bengal promised to plant five crore mangrove trees in the Sundarbans. Meanwhile, researchers have begun to look into a more realistic and sustainable approach called  Community Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR). To fight the salinity of the soil and economic hardships in the Sundarbans, scientists engineered several variants of “salt-tolerant rice varieties” at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI). Carlsberg, a major beverage company, is setting up Desolenator’s solar-power water purification system to turn saline water at Sundarbans into safe drinking water. Additionally, some are building barriers to limit human-tiger interactions with nets and embankments to prevent further damage from storms leading to salinity. Experts also seek alternatives to concrete embankments, which are non-cohesive to the environment and do not always withstand cyclones.

Migration Problems

According to the WWF, the Sundarbans house some of the poorest people in the world. This facilitates a low rank in human development indicators. The rampage of environmental disasters and human-animal conflict in the Sundarbans strongly affected the livelihood and the daily lives of the residents. This has led many to migrate from the islands to the mainland in search of work and shelter. An MIT study stated that if the trend of migration continues, it might be one of the largest populations in Asia to migrate due to the climate crisis. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many workers who had migrated returned to the landscape of the Sundarbans. As long as these sudden-onset disasters keep affecting the islands, people will continue looking for work on the mainland.

Planning a Retreat

Climate scientists predict that climate disasters will continue to affect the landscape of the Sundarbans and that these disasters may even increase in intensity. The poor, vulnerable and lower-caste population suffers the most from all of this. When discussing the current climate crisis, climate adaptation and planned or managed retreats serve as key components. However, moving about 1 million people away from danger zones presents some challenging logistics.

Policymakers from India and Bangladesh have proposed the Delta Vision 2050 to address this need. It is a step-by-step planned migration to move the 1 million living in vulnerable areas. However, concerns exist that the migration plans will not honor the people’s desires. To the islanders of the Sundarbans, the climate crisis is not the only threat they face. Residents urgently need to address the socio-political climate of the Sundarbans, not just the climate.

Opportunities for Community-led Tourism

The picturesque landscape of the Sundarbans makes it the perfect holiday destination for nature lovers. At the same time, it has the potential to generate substantial income for the community. If Bangladesh and India join hands to facilitate achievable standards of hospitality to attract tourists worldwide, the Sundarbans will not only experience an economic revival but also work towards a sustainably secure future.

Infrastructural hindrances like electricity, water-way transportation and effective communication are the key challenges to enhancing the tourist experience. Cooperation from the government, forest and transportation departments, community-based hospitality training exercises and collaboration with tourism will greatly advance the Sundarbans’ ecosystem.

The Importance of Community Involvement

Ashmita Biswas, a Climate Risk and Adaptation Consultant at CEEW, responded to The Borgen Project’s questions on the importance of involving the community in the Sundarbans. “It is imperative to involve local communities in any and every discussion which pertains to their surroundings, be it conservation or resilience, as they will be ones who will have to implement initiatives. Stakeholder engagements are important to identify constraints and tailor programs to make for sustainable initiatives. Without such conservations, there lies a risk of communities not understanding the importance of them, and, as a result, not following through with responsibilities. Stakeholder engagements also help to understand what might be key drivers that could motivate communities to take action. These action points are essential in ensuring the success of a plan or policy to create long-term sustainable impact and change.”

The Sundarbans are at the forefront of the climate crisis. Its geographic position has often exaggerated its already-present economic, social and developmental hardships. The interconnectedness of the ongoing crisis post-cyclone presents a cluster of islands full of people simultaneously recuperating from past disasters while bracing for future ones. The Sundarbans’ community members are key facilitators of the innovations that scientists, policymakers and NGOs have created. Their equal involvement and understanding of the Sundarbans will determine the future of the islands.

– Anuja Mukherjee
Photo: Flickr

Top Four Technologies Solving Water Scarcity
Access to healthy drinking water is a basic human right and billions of people are suffering from water scarcity. The world has more salt water than fresh water, which makes it hard to find drinking water. Some have created technologies for this reason. Here are the top four technologies solving water scarcity all over the world.

Top 4 Technologies Solving Water Scarcity

  1. The WaterSeer: Among these top four technologies to solve water scarcity is a machine that VICI Labs developed called the WaterSeer. It can pull moisture from the air and produce up to 11 gallons of clean drinking water. It blows wind into an underground chamber that condenses and forms water. There have not been many field tests yet which has caused critics to raise an eyebrow. Hopefully, the machine does its job and can help produce clean drinking water for countries that have limited access to it.
  2. The Desolenator: Creating safe drinking water is very important but a machine needs to be sustainable enough to continue to give that resource. This is why this next technology ranks as one of the top five technologies solving water scarcity. The Desolenator is a solar desalination tool that removes 99 percent of contaminants from water. It is portable and can produce about 15 liters of fresh water a day. The company says that it has a 20-year life span making it an efficient and sustainable device for solving water scarcity. The reason for this device lies behind the Desolenator company’s philosophy on the importance of clean drinking water. The company’s philosophy is based on, “A desire to provide assured access to clean water in the toughest situations, whilst protecting the planet we depend on.” The Desolenator company aims to design a better water future for people and the planet.
  3. Janicki Omni Processor: The Janicki Omni Processor is another of the top four technologies trying to solve water scarcity. It was originally going to be a machine to clean waste in cities but it can produce clean drinking water from human feces as well. The way it works is a three-step process to create accessible drinking water. These steps include solid fuel combustion, steam power generation and water treatment. At the end of all these steps, water is then ready for human consumption.
  4. Desalination: Converting salt water into fresh water, is another way people can solve water scarcity. The process is called desalination, and it is a huge step towards ending water scarcity. The process may take a lot of energy to conduct but there are affordable ways to do so. Graphene filters are a way to waste less energy in the process of desalination. These filters could reduce the cost of the energy that desalination requires. The Lockheed Martin company has developed a filter that will take into account the amount of energy this process uses in the hopes of providing clean drinking water while also saving energy.

While these four technologies are working to solve water scarcity, there was also the Urban Drinking Water Challenge of 2018 working to eliminate water scarcity through innovations. This was a global innovation competition to identify and deploy drinking water solutions. The challenge provided $250,000 in awards to promising water technology startups. Those who participated in the challenge had to follow three themes that included alternative supply, distributed access and delivery and ecosystem health. This challenge presented opportunities for solutions that encompass the benefits of economies in urban settings to ensure affordability, reach and sustainability of drinking water services.

Water scarcity is a huge crisis, but with advanced technologies paving the way for change, there may be a solution.

Jessica Jones
Photo: Flickr