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Indo-Bangladesh: Climate Change, tourism causing ‘irreversible damage’ to Sundarbans Reserve

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Sundarbans
Bengal Tiger of the Sundarbans. Image source: blogspot.com/

New Delhi: Unregulated tourism and rapidly increasing temperatures are posing “irreversible damage” to the Sundarbans biosphere reserve, one of the largest mangrove habitats in the world, environmental groups warn.

Uncontrolled tourism is polluting the reserve, which is shared by India and Bangladesh, to an extent that is “beyond rectification,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), told reporters.

“Tourism, especially for tiger viewing, is increasing exponentially in the area and needs to be monitored. It is causing major pollution, as huge quantities of plastic material and other debris are dumped into the water,” she said.

The Sundarbans, a delta of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin, is spread over 9,630 square km (3,718 square miles).

The Indian side of Sundarbans covers a 4,000-square-km (1,544-square-mile) area with a population of around 5 million.

Out of 102 islands within the Sundarbans, 54 are inhabited while 48 are forested. The forested part has three wildlife sanctuaries and a national park, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image source: benarnews.org
Image source: benarnews.org

‘A heightened state of danger’

The largest habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sundarbans is home to five critically endangered reptiles, including the Hawksbill Sea Turtle and River Terrapin.

The endangered and near-threatened species in Sundarbans include the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, Indian Rock Python, King Cobra, Greater Adjutant Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Fishing Cat and Gangetic Dolphin.

According to official figures, about 175,000 tourists visited the Sundarbans tiger reserve, while another 42,000 people visited the biosphere reserve in 2015.

Besides large-scale tourism, climate change is also posing a threat to Sundarbans, according to World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India).

A Climate Adaptation Report released by the group warned that Sundarbans was “already in the midst of a heightened state of danger.”

Atmospheric warming is causing thermal expansion of waters, inducing a sea-level rise of about 12 mm per year, the report said, adding that surface air temperatures over the Bay of Bengal have been rising at a rate of 0.019 degrees Celsius (0.034 degrees Fahrenheit) per year.

“Given the disproportionately heavy impact that climate change is expected to have on this delta area, the need to improve adaptive management and develop more appropriate solutions for this unique system has become acutely urgent,” the WWF report said.

Ratul Saha, who heads WWF’s Sundarbans Landscape team, said, “The current policies and patterns of development have to be completely revised, or else the situation would be catastrophic. The livelihoods and the survival of the people are at risk.”

Climate change has been found to be responsible for several cyclonic storms and increased frequency of extreme weather events in the recent past in the Sundarbans, Saha said. It has also been causing coastal erosion, change in embankments, acidification of waters and submergence of islands, he added.

Cross-border infiltration

Another major threat to the habitat is the increasing salinity in the waters, which is resisting the growth of mangroves, locals said.

Besides rising salinity levels, infiltration from Bangladesh into the Indian side of Sundarbans in West Bengal state is a matter of concern for wildlife conservationists.

“Infiltration does take place. We cannot dispute that. But these intruders come only during the honey season [April-May],” Pradeep Vyas, Chief Wildlife Warden in West Bengal told reporters.

“We are jointly patrolling the border areas with the Border Security Force and Indian Coast Guard to check infiltration,” he said.

Vyas said his department was doing its best to protect the habitat.

“We have banned the use of polythene bags. We are also trying to develop new tourism destinations to take pressure off the over-utilized parts [of the Sundarbans],” he said.

(The article was originally published in benarnews.org)

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    Yes, a fusion of environmental concern and tourism should be done. Ecologically responsible tourism will not only benefit the endangered flora and fauna but also will keep the flow of people and finance coming in.

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IIT And IIS Collaborate To Develop Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment For The Indian Himalayan Region

"Being situated in the Himalayan region, IIT-Mandi is proud to be a part of this vulnerability assessment exercise and a leader in technology in this region."

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The 12 states are Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, hilly districts of West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. Pixabay

The Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati, Indian Institute of Technology-Mandi and Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru have collaborated to develop a climate change vulnerability assessment for the Indian Himalayan region using a common framework, it was announced on Thursday.

The assessment exercise is unique because for the first time all 12 Himalayan states have used a common framework resulting in the production of comparable state-level and within state, district-level vulnerability maps.

Such comparable vulnerability assessments are useful for the governments, implementers, decision makers, funding agencies and development experts to gain a common understanding on vulnerability, enabling them to assess which state is more vulnerable, what has made them vulnerable and how they might address these vulnerabilities.

Himalaya
“The adaptation to climate change is a collaborative effort between appropriate use of technology, a vision that produces policies, a change at ground level and engaging the local communities.” Pixabay

The framework and the results were presented here at a national workshop on ‘Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for States and the Union Territories Using a Common Framework’ organised by IIT-Guwahati and IIT-Mandi with support from IISc Bengaluru, the Department of Science and Technology and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The 12 states are Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, hilly districts of West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

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Such comparable vulnerability assessments are useful for the governments, implementers, decision makers, funding agencies and development experts to gain a common understanding on vulnerability, enabling them to assess which state is more vulnerable, what has made them vulnerable and how they might address these vulnerabilities. Pixabay

Highlighting impact of the project, Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, said: “The adaptation to climate change is a collaborative effort between appropriate use of technology, a vision that produces policies, a change at ground level and engaging the local communities.”

“These vulnerability maps will play a crucial role in this effort.”

Also Read: U.S. Government Grounds Boeing After Intense Pressure

Timothy A. Gonsalves, Director IIT-Mandi, said: “Being situated in the Himalayan region, IIT-Mandi is proud to be a part of this vulnerability assessment exercise and a leader in technology in this region.”

Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy Tamara Mona said: “Switzerland, like India, has a long experience in facing the potential opportunities and risks. Swiss national policy for climate change adaptation has been complemented by local government strategies, based on detailed and locally anchored risks assessment, maps and preparedness, plans and actions.” (IANS)