Kalpana Mandal, in her sixties, stood outside her tiny hut in Mousuni, a sinking island in the Sunderbans, with a long fishing net in her hand. All the land around her has been submerged, and hers is the last house standing. In a desperate attempt to save her humble abode from being washed away, Kalpana has covered most of her hut with the fishing net which she fastened at various points on the ground. But there is little hope of her dwelling being spared by the inexorable rising tide.
Since Sunday, large parts of Mousuni island have been under water, with hundreds of houses swept away by the rising tide caused by the Spring Equinox. “I have lost most of my possessions. Once this house is washed away, I will have to live on the streets,” Kalpana told The Hindu .
There are thousands like Kalpana on the island who have taken shelter either in flood relief camps or makeshift tents set up on the road. “Around 2,000 families in three villages of the island have been affected,” informed Tapas Mandal, Block Development Officer, Namkhana, under which the island falls. According to him, the situation has been worsened by the reluctance of the villagers to relocate to higher ground despite repeated requests from the administration. Mousuni Gram Panchayat Pradhan, Sk Ilias, said that more than three-fourths of the island, whose population stands at around 30,000, have been affected.
“Where do we relocate? We do not want any money from the government. All we have been asking is that the embankment is repaired so that our families can be spared,” said Basanta Giri, whose house was destroyed. There are over 12 km of embankments which need to be repaired, the villagers claim.
With water-borne diseases like diarrhoea spreading in the region, a shortage of medicines is acutely felt. “During the day we have been distributing ORS and other medicines for water borne diseases, but we are falling short as the number affected people is very high,” said a health officer working in the villages. Mousuni, with its proximity to the open sea, is particularly vulnerable to the rising tides. “Over the past few years, the sea level has risen, as well as the sea temperature. These have been the primary reasons for the present situation,” said Tuhin Ghosh, joint director of School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University. Dr Ghosh has warned that in the coming years the frequency and the intensity of such tidal flooding are likely to increase.
A joint report (Indian Sunderbans Delta: A Vision) published by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and School of Oceanographic Studies in 2012 had stated that over a million people in the Sunderbans will be affected by the year 2050 due to climate change. The report has called for a change in the existing policies of the government and suggested a “planned retreat” of the people living in the archipelago to the mainland.