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15 November 2010, Gateway House

Who can save the Sunderbans

Gateway House launched its first Global Minds Essay Contest, with the theme "Who can save the Sundarbans?", open to any student in India aged 15-19 years. This essay by Damini Roy, from Rajasthan, won the first prize.

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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Whatever change we want to achieve, it must all begin with our individual effort. Over the years, we have achieved a lot as a society. However, we’ve made certain compromises with our environment. In our quest for greater economic returns, we have ended up jeopardizing the future of our environment and surroundings.

Today, our world is plagued with more problems than before. Excessive population growth, increased pollution levels, unmitigated urbanization- all these are manifestations of our faulty ‘progress plans’. Instead of achieving an ecologically sustainable growth, we have, instead, ended up bargaining environmental well-being for economic growth.

And one of the most serious challenges that we face today is climate change. Climate change has belied the hopes of all previous generations, who believed that all human developmental activity was well below the threshold of environmental sustenance. Sadly, the current generation faces the serious threat of climate change and the future generations face the risk of being completely wiped off the face of this planet.

In today’s day and age, we see that climate change had only led to the intensification of human activities leading to environmental damage. This has led to various outcomes- rapid rise in global sea levels, sudden fluctuations in average water temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns etc. Another worrying situation that has arisen is the slow destruction of ecologically sensitive ecosystems all over the globe.

In the same context, the deterioration of the Sunderbans has drawn concern from all corners. Being the largest mangrove forest ecosystem in the world, the Sunderbans is home to an exquisite and enormous number of species, including the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Gangetic River Dolphin. The Sunderbans spreads over a large area, a portion of which lies in Bangladesh, while the rest lies in India.

The Sunderbans gets its name due to the abundant presence of the ‘Sundari’ trees. The region is famed for its rich biological diversity, the prime attraction being the expansive mangrove forests; the ecosystem is one of a kind the world over. The Sunderbans consists of an intricate network of tidal waterways, marshy patches, mudflats and numerous islands.

The intermingling of fresh water and sea water in the region makes the sustenance of plants rather tough, but the predominance of mangroves in the region is something that is considered to be unusually enticing. Apart from serving as a tourist attraction, the mangroves serve various important ecological functions in the region. They provide a conducive environment for the existence of various creatures that attach themselves to the roots of the mangroves, and avoid being swept away by the tides. Apart from this, various symbiotic interactions have been seen in the region, thereby depicting the inter-relation between the flora and fauna of this region.

However, the Sunderbans faces the impending threat of being completely destroyed due to the ravaging effects of climate change. The indicators of this have been seen in increased temperatures of surrounding water bodies, altered course of rivers, sudden and erratic rise in water levels, inundated islands and so on. This has resulted in the destruction of crops and living space, setback in conservation efforts and other irreparable damage to the ecosystem. As a result, we face the grave challenge of saving the ecologically rich heritage of the Sunderbans.

The Sunderbans is not just an environmental asset or an ecological treasure-trove; it is an area of immense geo-political importance as well. The Sunderbans consists of a vast deltaic system that lies between India and Bangladesh. Therefore, if the land of this region gets submerged, then further complexities will arise. The already-existing conflict between India and Bangladesh on the claim of certain portions of the tidal forest shall get intensified. Furthermore, India runs the risk of being overrun by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This shall not only aggravate the condition, but also put immense pressure on our combined natural resources. This shall further lead to managerial problems, and the rehabilitation of millions of displaced people shall become a daunting task.

Also, if the Sunderbans falls prey to the ill-effects of climate change, it will lead to the growth of subsidiary issues. These include loss of biodiversity of the region, complete inundation of the land and related problems in the surrounding regions. There will be a sudden increase in water-borne diseases, and loss of crops as well. This will affect the lives of a million others, who may not be in the direct vicinity of the Sunderbans. Therefore, the problem that confronts us has serious implication which cannot be overlooked.

The time to act is now. It’s late to trace back our steps, but it’s not too late to mend our ways. We must alter our lifestyles if we seek to change the destiny of the Sunderbans. Who can save the Sunderbans? All of us. Who will save the Sunderbans? We, the future generation. We, the citizens of tomorrow who shall inherit a bright future, and seek to pass on a rich legacy to the coming generations.

At the individual level, we must acknowledge the guiding principle of change- every action counts. The youth must understand the pivotal role it plays in securing a better future, not just for humanity but for the environment as well. Indeed, mankind’s future will be secure as long as Mother Earth isn’t avenged. We have to mend our erroneous ways if we seek to inhabit this planet in the future. The required success at the individual level can be achieved by following a more sustainable lifestyle. If each of us reduces the environmental impact of our daily activities to a level that cumulatively comes well below the Earth’s carrying capacity, then we would have succeeding in preserving our limited stock of natural resources. As far as conserving the Sunderbans goes, we must understand that a number of measures can be undertaken.

First of all, the people of that particular region need to be sensitized about the issue. The farmers and their families need to be made to understand that as they are faced with change, they must embrace it and not grapple with it. Only then can they mould the future to a promising one. Each person needs to understand that unsustainable agricultural practices will only aggravate the condition. Similarly, fishermen need to be taught ecologically sound methods of aquaculture. Apart from scientific methods, they need to re-discover and adopt all those indigenous methods that focus of co-existence of man and nature. These include fishing for limited stocks of fish, sowing seeds of native species in order to avoid toxic release by exotic species, letting cattle graze in selected areas, not cutting mangroves for firewood, not hunting tigers or dolphins etc.

Apart from this, efforts in India and Bangladesh must be directed towards making the international community aware of the perils faced by the Sunderbans. This includes promotion of scientific study, campaigns and eco-tourism trips in the region. By being in the affected region, people will be sensitized towards the issue in a better manner. Also, NGOs and other governmental bodies must join hands and undertake joint ventures like petitions and peace marches in order to spread awareness about the fragile condition of the Sunderbans, and also to secure effective change in local governmental policies that are found to be inconsistent with the goal of preserving the Sunderbans.

Similarly, effective legislative measures should be undertaken both by India and Bangladesh in ensuring that there is no excessive populace residing in that region. Also, regular patrols and checks must be conducted to ensure that all rules are being implemented appropriately. Neighbouring nations must also contribute in whichever way they can, be it sending funds for research activity or sharing some new, innovative technical design which aims at environmental conservation.

At the global level, various measures can be undertaken to increase awareness regarding the issue. The Information Technology boon must be utilized to spread increased awareness regarding the issue. Online essay and brochure designing contests must be held so that children are exposed to the perils faced by the Sunderbans. This will inculcate in them a sense of environmental responsibility. Similarly, social networking sites must feature regular advertisements or banners that proclaim the message of saving the Sunderbans. Non-profit Internet sites that accept voluntary donations must also be initiated, under the surveillance of an international authority on environmental issues. Similarly, an online kiosk must be created, which provides enchanting facts about the region and gives links to various volunteer programmes under NGOs. This will ensure active participation of the people from all over the globe, and will result in a whole-hearted effort to save the Sunderbans.

What we must remember is that we, as a global community, share the same planet. Thus, there is no such problem that affects only a certain segment of the world. An environmental hazard on one corner of the world can prove to be fatal for the entire global community. Therefore, we all must work together in order to secure a better future for all.

Damini Roy is a student of Class VII at Mayo College Girls School in Ajmer, Rajasthan.