The forest in West Bengal, which is contiguous with the Bangladesh Sundarbans, is an immensely fragile ecosystem and one of the biggest threats to it is climate-change driven sea level rise. But the small islands on the fringe of the Sundarbans have been shifting, shrinking and disappearing, leaving a trail of climate refugees for more than 40 years and from other human interventions.
Tuhin Ghosh of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University has been studying changes to the tiny islands that dot the mouth of the Hugli river. In a study published last year, Ghosh and his co-researchers found that between 1975 and 1990, islands like the Lohachara and Bedford Islands disappeared from their original location. Another small landmass, Ghoramara island, provides the most telling case of vanishing land and displaced people. Satellite images show that in 1975 Ghoramara had a total area of 8.51 s km, which shrunk to just 4.43 sq km in 2012. "Everywhere there is sharp cutting of the river banks, chunks of mainland are being diplaced from the mainland and getting submerged," Ghosh said.
With thousands being pushed off the islands its population growth dropped to 0.55% per year while the overall growth of the admnistrative block in which it is located is about 2.1%. Neighbouring Sagar Island took in the refugees from the vanishing islands and at least five Ghoramara villages with the result that its population growth outpaced the expected trend between the years 1981 and 1991.
Figure: Island Erosion and Afflicted Population: Crisis and Policies to Handle Climate Change (T. Ghosh, R. Hajra, A. Mukhopadhyay)
The question of how many people have been displaced from Ghoramara is a tough one because there have been no actual government records but most people in the area are of the opinion that some 4,000 people have left. The island residents faced with their disappearing lands and livelihoods depend on faith in the local gods, since there is no official policy for adapting to the changes.
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