The ecologically crucial but fragile Sundarbans, spread across Bengal and Bangladesh, have suffered losses of more than Rs 2 lakh crore ($25 billion at current exchange rates) due to climate change over the past 40 years.
According to the report by the international climate research agency ‘Zero Carbon Analytics’, the Sundarbans are home to 7.2 million people, considered the most vulnerable in the world. 45 lakh people from India and 27 lakh from Bangladesh are included.
In the last 25 years, 62 per cent of the people who live here have lost their basic livelihood and 1.5 million people have been forced to move from here to safer places.
Losses and damage include Rs 32,549 crore of ecosystem losses and Rs 1.6 crore due to loss of agricultural production, land and water salinity. It has been said that the maximum damage in the report is on land.
Due to a lack of employment opportunities, most people are dependent on land and natural resources that are rapidly depleting due to climate change. In the last 25 years, 62 per cent of the people who live here have lost their basic livelihood and 1.5 million people have been forced to move from here to safer places.
The report says that due to climate change, there has been a huge loss of important ecosystems spread across Bengal and Bangladesh in the past four decades. According to the analysis, the loss of life, property and livelihood in the Sundarbans in the last 40 years has been more than Rs 2 lakh crore.
The most worrying part of the analysis is that in the past three years alone, four major cyclones have caused a huge loss of Rs 1.6 lakh crore.
- Home to 7.2 million of the world’s most vulnerable people and the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarban region is increasingly threatened by the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
- Climate change is contributing to the absence of employment opportunities, the destruction of property from extreme weather events, and the loss of mangroves and vital lands due to rising sea levels. With homes and livelihoods threatened, many have no choice but to migrate elsewhere.
- The increasing scale and frequency of climate impacts mean that in many cases the limits of adaptation have already been reached. Those most affected argue that extensive loss and damage must be addressed by those responsible with the financial means to do so.
- In the past 25 years, four islands in the Indian Sundarbans – Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi and Suparibhanga – have already disappeared, displacing 6,000 families.
- In 2002, it was estimated that climate change would displace more than 69,000 people from the Sundarbans by 2020. By 2018, some 60,000 people had already migrated from the region.
- The government estimates that more than 100,000 farmers suffered heavy losses as salt water in fields and ponds killed fish and left fields uncultivated.
What are the Sundarbans?
The Sundarbans are a group of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread across India and Bangladesh. The region is internationally recognized for its unique biodiversity and ecological importance, including the world’s largest mangrove forest, covering a total area of 10,200 km.
The Sundarbans ecosystem provides a wide range of vital ecological services, including cyclone protection for millions of people, habitat for wildlife, supply of food and natural resources, and carbon sequestration. It is also home to some 7.2 million people (4.5 million in India and 2.7 million in Bangladesh), including some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in South Asia. About half of the population lives below the poverty line.
Extreme weather events
Researchers from the international climate research agency, Zero Carbon Analytics, estimate a loss of Rs 27 billion in “ecosystem services” from the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve in the last 30 years, more than 80% of which are mangroves.
In 2015-16, the total area of the Sundarbans had shrunk by 210 km2 since 1967 and by 451 km2 since 1904. This decreasing trend is true whether the Indian and Bangladeshi parts of the Sundarbans are considered separately or together.
In the last 23 years, the region has seen 13 major cyclones. In the Bay of Bengal along the Sundarbans, cyclone events increased by 26 per cent between 1881 and 2001.
Furthermore, the report showed that there has been a significant increase in the frequency of very severe cyclones in the post-monsoon season from 2000 to 2018. Scientists have projected an increase of about 50 percent in the frequency of post-monsoon cyclones in the period between 2041 and 2060.
Due to the low elevation of the Sundarbans and the reduced protection of the mangroves, cyclones can cause catastrophic damage. Four major cyclones have hit the Sunderbans in the last three years, killing almost 250 people and causing losses of almost USD 20 billion.
Cyclone Amphan in 2020 was estimated to have destroyed 28% of India’s Sundarban region and caused USD 12 billion worth of damage. The cyclone displaced 2.4 million people in India and 2.5 million people in Bangladesh. While many returned shortly thereafter, damage to more than 2.8 million homes and a lack of evacuation centers left many thousands homeless and protractedly displaced.
Why financing for Loss and Damage is needed
Significantly, the Sundarbans are responsible for very few emissions worldwide. The whole of Bengal and Bangladesh account for just 0.56 per cent of global emissions. But the people here are forced to face the consequences of climate change. This region, along with many other developing countries and vulnerable communities, should not be forced to suffer extreme loss and damage.
For the people of the Sundarbans, the economic and non-economic losses, such as loss of land, livelihoods, mortality, health, culture, are beyond what the region can afford.
According to a 2009 study, the annual costs of environmental damage and health problems caused by climate change are estimated at Rs 1,290 crore per year (USD 250 million), equivalent to 10% of the GDP of the Sundarbans in 2009.
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