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Are alternative livelihood sources killing the fragile Sunderbans?

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Kolkata:  Scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have recently discovered something unusual in the activity of insects that flit around the mangrove plants collecting pollen grains and nectar from flowers. These insects  unknowingly spread the pollen around, helping the plant species to reproduce (a process called pollination).

“In the Bali Island of the Indian Sunderbans in West Bengal, domestic bees from the bee boxes are not allowing wild insect pollinators to sit on the flowers of some species because of their aggression and large numbers. But in other islands, in the same species, we can see the wild pollinators visiting,” Bulganin Mitra, an entomologist with ZSI, told IANS.

This could indicate that means of local livelihoods, such as bee-keeping, may be “restricting” the natural work of these pollinators that have a role in the proliferation of the mangrove species in the Sunderbans, Mitra added.

Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known for its exceptional biodiversity in flora and fauna with a staggering 334 plant species and 693 species of wildlife, which include 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, eight amphibians, 210 white fishe, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks.

It is also home to the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger and reports of the endangered species attacking humans while fishing and hunting are common.

The livelihood issues in the Sunderbans are also linked to climate change with increasing sea-levels and salinity depriving locals of means of sustaining themselves.

At the core of sustainability, are the declining mangrove species (such as the Sundari trees) which are crucial to support livelihoods, as they provide carbon sinks and act as a buffer against climate change.

To shed light on protection strategies with a holistic approach, Mitra and a team of ZSI scientists are investigating the role of insect pollinators on the conservation of the major mangrove species of the Sunderbans, a project of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change.

Through observations carried out during the day as well as in the night on eight mangrove species (of the total 24) across five islands in the Indian Sunderbans, experts “unexpectedly” found that overall, more species of flies were visiting the plants instead of bees, which are known to be one of the most common insect pollinators.

“In Bali Island, however, where bee boxes are placed as a source of alternative livelihood, the wild insect pollinators are kept at bay. But one can’t simply ask the locals to remove the bee boxes because that would put them in harm’s way (tiger attacks and the like) as they would have to resort to other means of livelihood in another part of the island,” Mitra explained.

This intricate relationship between man and animal in the Sunderbans calls for discussions with all the stakeholders, according to ZSI director K. Venkataraman.

“There should be awareness initiated among the public and there should be co-management by the public and the government. There is a lot of research which is needed to conserve the Sunderbans and studies have to be taken up by various departments. Research institutions should give priority to other groups of animals and not just the tiger alone,” Venkataraman told IANS.

-IANS

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Claiming Bias, U.S.A. And Israel Pull Out Of UNESCO

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

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The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seen druing a conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Nov. 4, 2017. VOA

The United States and Israel officially quit of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.

The Paris-based organization has been denounced by its critics as a crucible for anti-Israel bias: blasted for criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites and granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

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UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Image Source: www.mid-day.com

The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.

The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.

In recent years, Israel has been infuriated by repeated resolutions that ignore and diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and that have named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

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Israel Flag, Pixabay

The State Department couldn’t comment because of the U.S. government shutdown. Earlier, the department told UNESCO officials the U.S. intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

Also Read: Israel Unanimously Approves Medical Marijuana Exports

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003. (VOA)