Working Area and Its Geographical Location & Demography

Pathar Pratima, Sagar, Kakdwip and Namkhana blocks under Sundarbans in the district of South 24 Parganas in West Bengal.

Sundarbans was first mentioned by the Greek globe trotter Megasthenes ( 381-312 BC) in his historical report ‘Indica’ during his visit in India in the era of emperor Chandragupta Mourya. Later British rulers before the partition of Bengal first introduced Sundarbans division and Khulna the Headquarter of that division. After the independence of India, Radcliff Commission recommended the western portion of Sundarbans division as its Indian part in the year 1947 and Alipore became headquarter of the Indian Sundarbans. The region was monitored by the normal administrative set up ( South and North 24 Parganas district administration ) until 1973. In 1973, the state Govt. felt the urgency to set up a district agency for the development of the backward region and created the Sundarban Development Board under the Development & Planning Department, Govt. of West Bengal.

Sundarbans is the largest delta, largest tidal mangrove forest and only mangrove tiger land in the world. The name of Sundarbans is thought to be derived from ‘Sundari’, the name of the large mangrove trees that are most plentiful in the area. The Sundarbans Mangrove forests ( 140000 ha )constitute about two-fifth of the Sundarbans regions overall surface area, with water covering roughly half of that area.

The Sundarbans is located between 21-32’ and 22-40’ North latitudes and between 88-05’ and 89 East longitudes bounded by Dampier-Hodges Line. The river Hooghly is in the West, Bay of Bengal in the South and eastern boundary is demarcated by Ichhamati-Kalindi-Raimangal rivers. The total area of Sundarbans region is 9630 sq. km. out of which the area under reserved forests is 4264 sq. km. In Indian part there are 104 islands of which 54 islands are inhabited. The area is crisscrossed by seven major rivers (Raimangal, Harinbhanga, Gosaba, Matla, Bidyadhari, Thakurine and Saptamukhi) along with innumerable rivulets. The total length of river embankments of Sundarbans is about 3500 km. There are three Wildlife sanctuaries and one national park. Sundarbans is the home of approx. 85 species of associate mangrove, 58 spices of mammals and 248 spices of birds.

The Sundarbans is a unique bioclimatic zone in a typical geographical situation in the South western part of the country facing the Bay of Bengal. Sundarbans cover 6 administrative blocks of North 24 Parganas district (Hingalganj, Hasanabad, Haroa, Sandeshkhali-1, Sandeshkhali-11 and Minakhan) and 13 blocks in South 24 Parganas district (Sagar, Namkhana, Kakdwip, Pathar Pratima, Kultali, Mathurapur-1, Mathurapur-II, Joynagar-I, Joynagar-11, Canning-I, Canning-II, Basanti and Gosaba). UNESCO has also demarcated the entire Sundarbans region as a Biosphere Reserve in 1989 with the commitment of the program on eco-conservation, eco-restoration and eco-development in the area. Sundarbans was declared a world heritage site in 1987 by UNESCO because of its mangrove forests and biodiversity.

Cyclones are natural events, which can not be prevented. The Indian sub-continent is the worst affected part in the world as far as loss of lives and financial losses are much more. The frequent disasters nullify the development of several years and turn the clock back for these vulnerable families. The Sundarbans is a cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal. Over the years, India has been hit by many tropical cyclones along with the Sundarbans areas in the past.

In 2007, super cyclone SIDR, originating in the Bay of Bengal ravaged the entire South and Southwestern coast with peaking winds over 220 km. an hour on November,15. Cyclonic SIDR caused devastation of existing infrastructures within the Sundarbans. It also caused tremendous disruption to wildlife. Important office documents have been washed off. This has created an immense loss to the Govt. property.

The cyclonic AILA which hit West Bengal and Bangladesh on May,25 and 26,2009 has devastated the lives and livelihoods of scores of people who live in the harm’s way. The cyclonic AILA collapsed more than 500 kilometers of embankments and thousands of permanent houses. In view of overwhelming needs and expected early monsoon forecast there is a high demand of safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, good hygiene practices, access to healthy food, temporary shelters and critical medical facilities, mostly in those affected villages in Sundarbans.

Bulbul, one of the recent tropical cyclones, wreaked havoc in Southern West Bengal and parts of Odisha in November, 2019, triggering the loss of billions of rupees. The storm surges primarily affected the districts of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas and East Medinipur in West Bengal, claiming several lives, destroying houses, physical assets and sweeping away ripe agricultural harvests. The cyclone hit the Sundarbans coast with winds gusting up to a speed of 130 km. per hour. The world largest mangrove forest impeded the wind proving yet again the importance of mangrove in safeguarding coasts from storms that are becoming increasingly more frequent and more severe due to climate change.

Amphan, an extremely severe cyclonic storm ravaged the islands, destroying homes, crops and livelihoods of Sundarbans. The wild animals would face the adverse effects directly in the Sundarbans. Embankments were breached in the low-level area because of the massive storm surge. Amphan became the second super cyclonic storm over Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha super cyclone. It crossed West Bengal-Bangladesh coasts with a wind speed of 165 km. per hour gusting to 185 km. per hour. The landfall in the Sundarbans started 2.30 p.m. and continued till 6.30 p.m.

Cyclone disturbances can cause significant damage to forest vegetation. The world’s largest mangrove forest is frequently exposed to cyclones of various magnitudes. Tropical cyclones are a frequent phenomenon; they can cause fatalities and major economic loss and are an important driver of forest ecosystems. A few remarkable year are mentioned below for cyclonic storms.

  • 1737 --- -A tropical cyclone impacted the Sundarbans and killed 300000 people.
  • 1833----- A tropical cyclone impacted the Sundarbans
  • 1864-------Super cyclone impacted the Sundarbans.
  • 1871------- Flood
  • 1874--------Famine
  • 1876--------Cyclone and Flood
  • 1885--------Flood
  • 1890--------Flood
  • 1904--------Flood
  • 1909-------Cyclone
  • 1942------ A cyclone hit The India and Bangladesh border.
  • 1970------ ‘BHOLA” cyclone was the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded and one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern times.
  • 1983------- Super cyclone in Sundarbans

Sundarbans, an unique mangrove forest, located in the Ganga delta with its rich flora and fauna composition has already been badly impacted by adverse impacts of climate change. The average temperature has already climbed and warming rate is on increase. Increasing salinity level in the Sundarbans, up to 30% of animal and plant species could be wiped out by a global temperature rise.

In spite of the vast resource potentials in the Sundarbans, the enhancement of the agricultural productivity in this coastal land is much below the expected label. The region is lagging behind in terms of agricultural productivity and livelihood security of the farmers and other inhabitants. The agricultural system is heavily dependent mainly on climate change and related environmental factors, besides other constraints like soil salinity, drainage congestion, flooding, inadequacy of fresh water for irrigation etc.

Sundarbans, the world’s largest delta, is a globally recognized ecologically sensitive area of West Bengal. Despite environmental regulations for conserving the forests, the regions ecological crisis remains unattended. Few of the blocks like Gosaba, Kultali, Basanti and Pathar Pratima situated at the active delta along with the forests Fringes, are further confronted by the effects of the climate crisis and rapid land erosion. A significant section of the inhabitants of these island subsists on forest based livelihoods like fishing and honey collection.

Sundarbans is a fragile and vulnerable eco-system, prone to intense and incessant threats. In recent years, the threat has escalated due to the devastating effects of climate change. Rise of stronger tidal waves has inundated the agricultural field along with depletion of mangroves. Degradation of the eco-system not only affects the environment adversely but also makes the people living in the coastal areas more vulnerable. The saline water is increasingly gulping the inhabited land and forcing people to resign to a future of submergence.

The Sundarbans region is rich in biodiversity and it has been a priority region for WWF-India since 1973 due to its unique biodiversity. The Sundarbans region is renowned as a refuge for a variety of animal species, many of them rare and endangered. The region has been severely affected by sea level rise, salinity intrusion, increasing sea surface temperature, rainfall variability, storm surges, increased frequency of river flood, over situation of the rivers, soil erosion and island subsidence.

The Sundarbans is also susceptible to natural calamities because of its geographical location and island set up. On an average, in every 2-3 years , a big natural event, such as Cyclone, storm surge, flood or excessive rainfall are observed in the Sundarbans.

It is our ardent duty to keep their hope alive with the guarantee of minimal security of their lives and standard of living, satisfying their minimum need and aspiration, and proving them basic amenities and nourishment. In the interest of development of the area and upliftment of the economic condition of people, the mangrove forest and diverse wildlife of Sundarbans must be conserved. Proper conservation of the plant and animal resources of Sundarbans can ensure economic development of the area through scientific mobilization of the natural resources.

Less than 50% of the total geographical area is available for agricultural purposes with very low cropping intensity. There is no irrigation facilities and as such rotation of crop is unknown. Agriculture and fishing from rivers are the main occupations. About every year the Sundarbans faces severe flood and as a result the existing water resources remains out of use for at least 3/4 months. The age old traditional economy activity of these poor people in addition to agricultural work is the forest related avocation namely crab and honey collection, and collection and sale of forest wood which is used as fuel and house building materials. During the last few decades there has been large scale destruction of forest in Sundarbans.

This area is not only economically poor but lack of infrastructures for basic amenities of life name railways, earthen roads, electricity, irrigation, etc. The villages of Sundarbans are thickly populated by agricultural labourers, fishermen, wood cutters, honey collectors, daily labourers, bidi workers, poultry farmers, cultivators etc. Majority of the people belong to backward low income families. The occupational pattern of Sundarbansis highly skewed in favour of male members. Almost absolute unemployment amongst the women folk indicate about a male dominated society and total dependence of women folk on the financial support from the male members. The indigenous women have no source of income. Women who are engaged as Bidi workers are already addicted to smoking. Due to unemployment problem of youths and other labourers go to other states for regular work for construction of building, decorating work, various types of Company works. Etc. and come back after staying 10/12 months there. Moreover, the labourers go to another districts of the state for regular work at cold storages, Rice Mills, Factories etc. and come back staying 5/6 months there. Even they go to another countries like Dubai, Katar, etc.

Due to poor socio-economic condition, most of the people living in Sundarbans are not conscious about their health. Higher mortality among women has resulted in negative sex ratio. As per 2011 census report, the male literacy rate in South 24 Parganas district ( Sundarbans lies in the South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas district) is 55.02% and female literacy rate is 44.98%. The nutritional status of women is very low. The general health of women of all ages is often neglected. Child marriage is prevailing. Violence against women has become a prominent topic of the Sundarbans.