World's only mangrove island may vanish

After the disappearance of two islands, now Ghoramara island is threatened.


While there is a lot of talk and political heat on the funds flow and post-disaster relief by the government and NGOs, there is hardly any visible effort or fund to prepare the region for climatic extremes. Neither is there any ‘mission statement' in the National Action Plan for Climate Change for saving the Sunderbans - the global carbon sink - nor is there any effective ‘Integrated Coastal Management Plan’ for the world’s only mangrove island.
The prospect of a drought hung too close over the nation this year and although a late monsoon has given some respite, it is not evenly spread. And the Sunderbans is extremely vulnerable to such changes.

If the December 26, 2005 tsunami had changed for ever the geography of the Andaman & Nicobar islands,sinking a couple of islands and bifurcating Trinket, the devastating storm-fed surge in the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal has only further accelerated the process of gobbling-up of land in the vulnerable regions of this biosphere reserve.The alarming rate of rise in the sea level that already saw vanishing of two islands in the recent past, is now posing a threat to Ghoramara island.

“Over the past 25 years, the island has been eaten away by the sea - from nine square km, it has been whittled down by almost 50 percent and the process is continuing. I’m afraid very soon the island will disappear totally,” says Prof Sugata Hazra, noted professor of Oceanography in Jadavpur University. “The global c community ought to take lessons from Ghoramara islanders on ways to reduce carbon emissions by using solar power. No one from abroad can imagine that even televisions here run on solar energy.”

Eco refugees
Ghoramara’s neighbouring island Lohachara had disappeared under water 18 years ago along with another island. Over the last 30 years, more than 7,000 environment refugees have been forced to shift out from these islands and be rehabilitated in the neighbouring Sagar Island while others moved to Kolkata.

Ironically, a massive Petroleum, Chemical and Petrochemical Investment Region (PCPIR) project has just received the nod of the state and central governments at Nayachar island, located within 10 kms of the Sunderbans biosphere reserve and within the Hooghly-Matla estuarine zone, a region which is undoubtedly one of the world's richest in terms of biodiversity.

Besides being home to the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger and hundreds of rare wildlife species, the region is the spawning ground of a vast array of marine life forms, including numerous commercial varieties of finfish and shellfish. The Hooghly-Matla estuarine and coastal waters of West Bengal provide livelihood to over 2,50,000 fishermen.
“If the project comes up at Nayachar, the entire region would get affected by its toxic chemical discharge,” says Santanu Chacraverti of the NGO Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action.

The sea surface temperature is rising in the North Indian Ocean Basin (NIOB) as well as this part of the Bay of Bengal with a projected rate of 1 degree centigrade in 50 years. There can be two to three per cent rise in the corresponding cyclone intensity with every point-five degree rise in the sea water level.

“We must recall that with the waning of the La Nina phase within two years, we’ve seen four such devastating storms (Sidr, Nargis,Bijli and Aila) making land fall in the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh,” contends Hazra. “A study shows there is 26 per cent rise in the frequency of severe cyclones over the past 120 years in this part of the Bay of Bengal. This may further increase with intensifying El Nino in coming years.”
The high rate of rise in the relative sea level is not only destroying human habitat, but also endangering the eroding tiger habitat of Bhangaduani, Dalhousie and Bulchery. There is an abnormal increase in tigers straying into the villages fringing the forest.

Turn of 20th Century: Greenhouse effect described by Swedish researcher Svante Arrhenius.
* 1979: First World Climate Conference in Geneva concludes that anthropogenic CO2 emissions could impact climate.
* 1987: World Climate Programme’s Bellagio meet notes dangers of rising seas.
* 1992: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted in New York in May; countries at Rio earth conference in June sign UNFCCC.
* 1995: At Berlin UNFCCC, India tables green proposal urging industrialised
nations to cut CO2 emission by 2000.
* 1997: Kyoto Protocol adopted;
industrialised nations agree to reduce GHG emissions to 5.2% below 1990 level.
* 2001: US rejects Kyoto Protocol;
India ratifies in 2002.
* 2007: Bali meet sets post-Kyoto
agenda.
* 2009: Copenhagen meet to begin
December 7. 

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