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The vanishing village

An island, which contributes minimally to climate change with a few thousand people and not even a single motorised vehicle, is going under water due to the phenomenon.

The documentary Mean Sea Level, directed by Pradip Saha for the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), tries to tell the story of Ghoramara island in the Sunderbans.

Ghoramara, located about 150 km south of Calcutta and immediately north of Sagar island — close to where the Hooghly meets the sea — is about 4.8 sq km in area. It has lost land roughly half that size in the last three decades to the Hooghly. Though a few argue that the submergence is caused by the dynamics of the river’s flow, most experts feel that the rising sea triggered by global warming and melting glaciers is the dominant factor behind the disappearance of islands in the Sunderbans.

A study by the oceanographic department of Jadavpur University found that roughly 80 sq km in the Sunderbans have vanished under water in three decades.

“My house was there, then there was a temple; a church; a pond…before the entire Lohachara island vanished,” an elderly person in the film, sitting in a boat, points at the stretch of the river where the island stood 18 years back.

The one-hour film is also about the lives and livelihoods of climate refugees, who are growing in number as more land is submerged.

“What happened in Lohachara 18 years back is happening in Ghoramara now and many feel it will affect Sagar island tomorrow. We tried to show that while the rest of the world has only been talking about climate, islands like Ghoramara are being submerged and affecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands,” said Saha.

“The evacuated people from Lohachara were settled in Ghoramara and Sagar, people from Ghoramara have been trying to find shelter in Sagar and maybe in the mainland. Sagar may be threatened in future… where will all these people go? What will they do to survive since their traditional livelihoods of agriculture and fishery are being destroyed?” — the film raises questions not easy to answer. More than 7,000 people have lost their homes in Ghoramara.

“Houses shown in the film are no more there,” said Das. The film was shot between February and July in 2008.

Mean Sea Level says that people are suffering not only because the sea level or the global temperature is rising, but because “somewhere a reckless society is having a party” at their expense.

If the submergence continues, Calcutta can experience a huge influx of climate refugees from the Sunderbans in India and Bangladesh.

“The film is not only about climate change but the human tragedy that it creates. No wonder the global human development report has identified climate change as the greatest human development tragedy,” said an environmentalist.

The film will be launched in Ghoramara island on February 25 in the presence of governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, CSE chief and environmentalist Sunita Narain and Sunderbans affair minister Kanti Ganguly. The Calcutta screening will be at Max Mueller Bhavan on February 27.

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