Tuesday November 13, 2018
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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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No Definition Of Green-Firecrackers, Probably Too Late To Put A Check: Environmentalists

Post-Diwali PM10 levels in Pitampura area was 690 units in 2017 against over 1,000 units in 2016.

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Fireworks, environmentalists
The ban would be in force throughout the year. These conditions would also be applicable to marriage festivities. Pixabay

While welcoming the Supreme Court’s verdict on imposing certain restriction on the timing of bursting firecrackers, environmentalists say there is no definition of green firecrackers, while raising scepticism if this will work this Diwali which is merely two weeks away.

The SC on Tuesday refused to impose a blanket ban on firecrackers, but restricted bursting only “green firecrackers” between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Pointing out that the peak smog episode of Delhi in 2016 and 2017 was around November 7 and November 8 due to the combined effect of stubble burning in neighbouring states, the date this year collides with Diwali on November 7, 2018.

While some environment organizations and environmentalists welcomed the decision, they pointed out the need for round-the-year imposition and check on other sources of pollution occuring from vehicles, industries and stubble burning.

 

environmentalists
People using Firecrackers to celebrate Diwali. Flickrfirecracker

“Issue of concept of green fire crackers, with limited amount of noise and emissions, had been raised in green courts earlier, but such things practically don’t exist in our country. PESO, however, can mark a warning system on firecrackers, but it’s too late for this Diwali,” says environment activist Vikrant Tongad.

Many activists believe that while stockpiling of firecrackers would have already been done, it would be extremenly difficult to check the standards of firecrackers.

PESO or the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation is the nodal organisation to look after safety requirements in manufacture, storage, transport and use of explosives and petroleum. Supereme Court on Tuesday asked it to review the clinical composition of fireworks, particularly for reducing the aluminium content and submit its report within two weeks.

“The stubble burning is at peak right now and last year, Diwali was on October 19 and in 2016 it was on October 30. This time it’s at the time when Delhi has a history of suffering smog episode. Also, there is no concept of green firecracker, so SC’s verdict is not likely to help,” an environment researcher told IANS requesting anonymity.

Firecrackers, environmentalists
SC permits bursting of only green firecrackers. Pixabay

The expert also pointed out that since the SC had allowed bursting firecrackers for two hours, imposing the restriction would be difficult.

In 2016, PM2.5 or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm, levels in some areas of Delhi increased to 1,238 on Diwali, which was about 50 times higher than the international standards. However, this effect was reduced in Diwali 2017 following a blanket ban, according to a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report. Another post-Diwali assessment across four regions in Delhi found drop in levels of suphur, nitrous and particle pollution in 2017 as compared to 2016.

For instance, post-Diwali PM10 levels in Pitampura area was 690 units in 2017 against over 1,000 units in 2016.

Also Read: Indian Supreme Court Allows Only Green Firecrackers

a Greenpeace assessment had found that average PM 2.5 levels post-Diewali in 2017 were 181 microgram per cubic meters, which were 343 units in 2016.

“Like the issue of burning biomass, fire crackers too contribute only to peak episodes and has little to do with sources that pollute the air during most parts of the year.

“We have been witnessing the lack of seriousness shown to this public health crisis by both central and state governments in policy formulation and implementation for many years now,” said Sunil Dahiya, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India. (IANS)