“We the residents of Sundarbans, knew that a storm could not wreak much havoc. It would topple homes, flatten boats. We were confident. But our faith was shattered by Amphan. You will see that Sundarbans’ residents generally are quite confident of weathering natural disasters. This calculation changed,” said Sanjoy Mondal, a tour operator. Photo by Sanjoy Mondal.

Kolkata-based NGO Society for Heritage and Ecological Researches (SHER), that has been working for over a decade to bridge local communities with the field staff of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve for strengthening the joint forest management initiatives, has moved relief to communities in the fringe villages of the tiger reserve and is supporting the community kitchens run by the tiger reserve.

As relief moves into the islands and government authorities are taking stock of the damage, communities have already started working together, on their own, to patch up cracked embankments that breached in cyclone Amphan, inundating agricultural fields with saltwater, rendering them useless for at least a couple of years. The embankments are evidence of broken electoral promises.

Disaster management expert Anshu Sharma of SEEDS emphasised that infrastructure projects alone are not enough to build resilience in communities.  “A large part of resilience building lies in softer components, in strengthening abilities of local communities and authorities to anticipate risks, institutional capacities to absorb shocks, and learning from events and adapting accordingly.  This truer than anywhere else in remote communities and fragile ecosystems such as those of the Sundarbans.”

People gather to collect relief material on the banks of an island. The Indian Sundarbans, 54 of the 102 islands support human settlements and have a population of 4.5 million. Photo by SHER.
People gather to collect relief material on the banks of an island. The Indian Sundarbans, 54 of the 102 islands support human settlements and have a population of 4.5 million. Photo by SHER.

The frequency and magnitude of events such as cyclone Amphan are likely to increase with warmer sea surface temperatures, and communities are also increasingly facing a range of other climate impacts due to increased year-to-year variability and long term climate change. This calls for more attention to the necessary efforts needed to help decision-makers and vulnerable communities better anticipate and manage climate risks, said Mélody Braun, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University.

“Climate services are part of these efforts. They include the generation of climate information based on the best available science, the translation and the communication of that information to decision-makers and communities in an appropriate language and format, and the use of that knowledge to inform climate-sensitive decisions,” Braun told Mongabay-India.

“However, they are currently often not sufficiently reaching the communities, and too top-down to fully address the needs of decision-makers. In order to reach their full potential, climate services require more policy support, targeted investment, efforts to strengthen the meteorological services as well as to improve transdisciplinary coordination and support convening and facilitation between providers and users of climate information,” said Braun whose experience focuses on Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh already has a very efficient and highly praised cyclone preparedness program that considerably reduced the number of casualties during cyclones of the past several years, however, the additional risk of COVID-19 made the preparedness for cyclone Amphan particularly challenging.”

Submerged paddy fields in Patharpratima in South-24 Paraganas. The communities were just recovering from the long-term damages to fields caused by Cyclone Aila over a decade ago. Now, Amphan has pushed them back in time. Photo by Sudhansu Maity.
Submerged paddy fields in Patharpratima in South-24 Paraganas. The communities were just recovering from the long-term damages to fields caused by Cyclone Aila over a decade ago. Now, Amphan has pushed them back in time. Photo by Sudhansu Maity.
Wasted fish catch in a village in Gosaba block after the cyclone. Amphan became the second supercyclonic storm over the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha supercyclone. Photo by special arrangement.
Wasted fish catch in a village in Gosaba block after the cyclone. Amphan became the second supercyclonic storm over the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha supercyclone. Photo by special arrangement.
Broken boats and houses in Patharpratima in the aftermath of the cyclone. People in the Sundarbans are mostly engaged in natural-resourced-based livelihoods such as agriculture, fishing and honey-collection. The cyclone became a blow to income while the COVID-19 lockdown had already caused damages. Photo. by Sudhansu Maity
Broken boats and houses in Patharpratima in the aftermath of the cyclone. People in the Sundarbans are mostly engaged in natural-resourced-based livelihoods such as agriculture, fishing and honey-collection. The cyclone became a blow to income while the COVID-19 lockdown had already caused damages. Photo. by Sudhansu Maity
Collapsed nylon net fencing along the forest-village interface in the Sundarbans. The fencing acts as a barrier to reduce human-tiger interactions. Reinforcing it after cyclone Amphan has been one of the priorities of the forest department. Photo by special arrangement.
Collapsed nylon net fencing along the forest-village interface in the Sundarbans. The fencing acts as a barrier to reduce human-tiger interactions. Reinforcing it after cyclone Amphan has been one of the priorities of the forest department. Photo by special arrangement.
Damaged trees and houses in Patharpratima in South-24 Paraganas. As the frequency of events such as Amphan increase due to climate change, it is essential to involve the communities in adaptation and resilience building activities. Photo by Sudhansu Maity.
Damaged trees and houses in Patharpratima in South-24 Paraganas. As the frequency of events such as Amphan increase due to climate change, it is essential to involve the communities in adaptation and resilience-building activities. Photo by Sudhansu Maity.

 

Photos for this story and Tarun Kumar Mandal’s written communique in Bangla were sourced with the help of GCRF Living Deltas Research Hub.

Banner image: A man in Patharpratima inspects the damage done by the cyclone. Photo by Sudhansu Maity.

Article published by Kartik Chandramouli
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