For the entire world this year has been a period of unprecedented events and changes. As the world and our nation battles with COVID-19, there are vulnerable regions and communities that have to bear the brunt of most catastrophes.
The largest continuous mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans has a bunch of inhabited islands where wherein the habiting communities are facing a number of difficulties and threats on a daily basis. They have to survive with the threat of tiger and crocodile attacks and rising sea levels due to extreme climatic changes. A section of these people had already lost their livelihoods due to the crisis of COVID-19 lockdown, with their life coming to a standstill.
Most people of various tribal communities such as the Savar community with whom Team Soul has been working for the last five years get most of their income from collecting honey from the combs and catching crabs. The lockdown caused them immense difficulty in their lives as these groups lived off whatever meagre they earned through these life-long ventures. Yet, one thing they had in abundance was the perseverance to survive through tough times.
But when the first super cyclone in Bay of Bengal (since 1999) reached this area, they were devastated. This cyclonic storm, Amphan, was the strongest tropical cyclone to have ever hit the Ganges Delta and unfortunately made the lives of people miserable and brought them down to their knees.
Times of India quoted Chief Wildlife Forest Warden Ravi Kant Sinha to have said that as per their initial estimate 1600 sq. km area in Sundarbans has suffered damage due to the cyclone. Researchers claim that the villages have been worse affected than the forest areas.
One of the major problems is has been caused by the infiltration of the salty water. The salination has also caused a challenge to the villagers especially in terms of the availability of portable water. Most of the fresh water resources have either been inundated or have become salty. The communities are now forced to boil all the available water to make it fit for drinking and other uses.
Through their own perseverance and the aid of the Government and various NGOs many villagers had built their own houses but Amphan has left their humble abodes roofless in the best cases and uninhabitable in the worst ones. Estimates suggest that roughly 600,000 houses in the delta were devoured by the damaging storms and the threatening tides.
The cyclone has caused heavy soil damage as salt water entered the area breaking the embankments. The state government says 105,000 hectares of crops have been damaged in the Sundarbans. As crops do not grow well in salty water, experts suggest that due to overflow of saline water into villages, people living there would have to shift to growing salt-tolerant varieties of crops. The effect of this salinity will continue to linger for years and affect these communities in innumerable ways.
Many domestic animals perished due to the catastrophe itself. The government estimate is at 900,000. In some regions the scarcity of drinking water and food has forced the residents to sell off their cattle for both the survival of the harmless animals and their owners.
Thus, ‘life has come to a standstill’ might be a euphemism when it comes to the people of Sundarbans. Life, for them, has become a daily battle. But, we, Team Soul have pledged to stand by them in these tough times. To support them and help them in all ways possible so that they are able to stand again on their feet and rebuild their homes and lives. We believe that with our little efforts, one day we will be able to breathe in a world where hunger will be a dystopic concept and all human beings shall stand together to look towards a brighter and happier future.