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FOR the lesser initiated, let me introduce you to the Sundarbans with some facts that I learnt over a few years of sustained engagement at the landscape. The place is a cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread over an area of around 988,422 acres. This is about 40% of the total. The rest 60% lies in Bangladesh. It also contains more than 10% of India’s mammal, fish and crustacean population, as well as approximately 19% of its bird population. This mega-diversity not only shelters the rich flora and fauna, but is also home to 4.5 million people. It is also the only coastal wetland habitat in world, where stays the uniquely-adapted population of the ever so popular, Royal Bengal Tiger (they are excellent swimmers by the way). I am not even going into the acutely sensitive interrelationships shared between human, wildlife and the mangroves. But hey, why bother with facts which can be easily looked up in the internet anyway.

Well, here’s why: Although magnificent in itself, Sundarbans is also a fragile ecosystem too. It is far-flung from the mainlands and essentially promoted as a tourist location (read, forest tourism and Ganga Sagar visits). For anybody on the outside, it is but natural to only treat the landscape as a tourism hotspot.

However, on reading the finer print you’d know that conservation challenges have gripped the landscape since forever (there are excellent researches done/being done by research institutes, think tanks where you will find more reading material). The agriculture here is rain-fed (meaning, it depends on rainfall), and other livelihoods are fishing, crab collection, honey collection, small businesses. Prone to high-intensity weather events like cyclones, floods, excessive rainfalls, Sundarbans have been facing these like a routine. Added to that is the development deficit. Now, with saline intrusion in the agricultural fields, declining agricultural productivity, soil erosion traditional farmers are either forced to venture into the forest or migrate outstation. The sea level rise here has not been yesterday’s issue. It takes years and years of resilience building among the local communities of a complex ecosystem such as this, to reach a balance. It is a dynamic process, and a hard one too. Various stakeholders are involved. The state, forest departments., panchayats, research institutes, extension agents, civil societies, conservation agencies, think tanks; you name it. So when, this beautiful landscape is battered every five, 10 years with Aila, Fani, Bulbul, Amphan (and many other smaller ones in the interim).

I think, how many more before Sundarbans finds tranquillity? People close to me (and not close to me as well) who know how passionate and vocal I have been about this magnificent place, please come forward and spread the word among your people. Volunteer, donate, attract attention, join hands, demand relentlessly from the govenment I have no idea as to what amount and how much time will be required to rebuild the Sundarbans. It will not be the same anymore. And remember, with the ongoing pandemic, migrating outstation will not be an option for the youth here, like it was the other times. This ecosystem, its people, this mangrove: they stand bruised and I appeal you to lend a hand.

~ Written by Depopriya

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