Cyclone Amphan Has Devastated the Sunderbans. Why Is No One Talking About It?


Cyclone Amphan Has Devastated the Sunderbans. Why Is No One Talking About It?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Cyclone Amphan was one of the worst storms to hit the coastline of the Bay of Bengal in decades, bringing widespread destruction in its wake. Both West Bengal which saw 72 deaths and the neighbouring nation of Bangladesh felt the brunt of the storm. While images of the destruction in urban areas have been circulating on social media and the internet, we are yet to see the extent of the damage caused by Amphan in the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a source of livelihood for people living in the region on both sides of the border.

The Sunderbans are often used by residents engaged in the business of collecting honey or wood, and the mangrove forest itself protects the riverine delta region from the ravages of rough seas by breaking up the inflow of strong tides and blocking saline water from seeping into the water table. However, the destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan was so devastating that the powerful winds have caused water to move from sea to land, affecting irrigation and farming in the region.

Once again, the Sunderbans forest has stood between the people of the region and absorbed the full fury of Cyclone Amphan as it made landfall.

Just like the disaster-struck landscape, the people of the Sunderbans are also looking at a long period of recovery after this cyclone. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many who could have moved from the region are unable to do so. The ones who have to stay there will have to contend with the damage the cyclone has caused to both fishing and farming, the two main food sources in the region. A report in The Telegraph quotes Chandan Maity, a resident of the West Bengal district of 24 Parganas, as saying, “The stagnant saline water in the farmland will make it impossible this year. The sweet water bodies will be filled with saltwater making them unfit for irrigation.”

The Sunderbans is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it has been vulnerable to overexploitation, deforestation, and most of all climate change even before Cyclone Amphan hit and worsened conditions. The loss of this unique and precious ecosystem would spell disaster for the entire region. Not only are the mangrove forests a natural defence against inclement weather like the cyclones that tear through the Bay of Bengal, they are also home to some of India’s most endangered wildlife species, like Royal Bengal tigers, Gangetic dolphins, and Olive Ridley turtles.

Try as we might to pretend like we are above the natural order, it only takes a single superstorm like Cyclone Amphan to remind us just how dependent we are on our ecosystems to survive. Experts have been trying to draw public attention to the degradation of the Sunderbans for years. It’s high time we started to listen.