Several environment experts from Bengal and Bangladesh have said the climate impact on the Sunderbans, spread across some 20,000sqkm on both sides of the border, can affect eight million people and should be recognised as a global problem.
The experts, during a meeting held in Calcutta last week, also decided that a joint stakeholder initiative would be undertaken to raise awareness of the possibilities of climate-linked losses in the region at global platforms, including the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai from November 30 to December 12.
The meeting, organised by the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Calcutta, along with city-based NGO the Environment Governed Integrated Organisation (EnGIO), was attended by climate experts and senior officials of both India and Bangladesh.
“The Sunderbans is fast becoming a global concern.... A narrative should be created to focus on the possible loss and damage of transboundary Sunderbans,” said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the special envoy to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on matters related to climate change.
Chowdhury, speaking online from New York where Hasina was for the UN General Assembly, added that the existing memorandum of understanding between both countries could be used to create global awareness of the issue.
Harjeet Singh, a member of the UN transitional committee on loss and damage, accepted that despite the acute vulnerability of the region, the Sunderbans was still not that visible on the international stage. He said that they would showcase the region’s vulnerability in the Dubai meet.
Prabhat Mishra, secretary of irrigation and waterways in Bengal who is also leading the Sunderbans masterplan in the state, spoke on the vulnerabilities of the Sunderbans on both sides of the border and supported the need “to develop our collaborative narrative” around it.
State disaster management secretary Dusyant Nariala stressed the need for
permanent solutions for people and biodiversity of the region.
UN reports, shared during the meeting, showed that the Sunderbans both in India and Bangladesh is a global hotspot of climate change with fast-increasing, high-intensity cyclones, sea levels rising at over double the pace of the global average and huge erosion leading to forced migration of people.
According to state government data, the cost of damage to the Sunderbans in the three recent cyclones, Bulbul, Amphan and Yaas, has been Rs 1.5 lakh crore.
Multiple reports predicted that the vulnerability of the Sunderbans in both India and Bangladesh would rapidly increase and low-lying regions in both countries could lose a significant percentage of their landmass by 2050.
Some reports have indicated that the Indian side of the Sunderbans already has had a net loss of about 210sqkm landmass in the last 60 years owing to erosion.
Andalib Elias, the deputy high commissioner of Bangladesh, said they would soon come up with a summary outcome from the deliberations and expected that it would increase support for the Sunderbans on the ground.
“We expect the Sunderbans to feature prominently in loss and damage-related discussions in Dubai (UN meet) and the joint narrative will become a useful tool. We also plan to organise a specific side event to discuss Sunderbans way forward in Dubai,” said Sanjay Vashist of the Climate Action Network South Asia.