Sagar Island is steadily losing land mass to the sea. Photo: Soumya Sarkar

By Soumya Sarkar
8 March 2017

(The Third Pole) – “The water rushed in at night,” recalls Madan Mohan Pal of Hendalketki in Sagar Island. “By the morning, the entire village was under water. When the flood receded, the land was so saline that we could grow nothing for the next two years.” Although Pal has harvested a good paddy crop this January, memory of the sudden tidal surge remains fresh.

An unpredicted high tide broke the embankments of Muriganga River in the night of 12 July 2014, and swept through 14 villages spread over 30 sq. km. The damage was extensive in the eastern part of the island. It disrupted life for about 25,000 people. More than 4,000 houses were destroyed and some 500 hectares of cropland turned saline. The sea hasn’t really retreated from some of the villages since then.

Sagar Island is arguably an object lesson on how people are coping with a rising sea. Considered sacred by Hindus because it sits at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, this large island of 160,000 people is buffeted by the worst effects of climate change — coastal erosion, rising sea levels, unpredictable tidal surges, land salinity and more violent cyclonic storms.

There has been an increase in the intensity of cyclones making landfall in the Sundarbans between 1951 and 2010, recent research suggests. Such an increase in intensity may be attributed to an increase in sea surface temperature. Cyclone Aila in May 2009 left more than a million people homeless and killed 339 people across India and Bangladesh.

Sagar is part of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest delta and contiguous mangrove forests that straddle Bangladesh and India. The Sundarbans have an archipelago of 102 islands, of which 54 are inhabited by more than four million people. Some of these islands, such as Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi and Suparibhanga have already disappeared. Other like Ghoramara and Mousuni will soon be lost, swallowed up by rising sea. Tens of thousands of people who live in the Sundarbans have lost their homes. […]

Pal may have saved his livelihood for a while by adapting farming practices to the shifts in natural conditions, but for how long? “The sea wants to come in all the time. Every year, the tidal waves become more unpredictable,” he says. “We have made nature very angry.” [more]

Shrinking Sagar Island struggles to stay afloat

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