Last week, I visited the lush, mangrove islands of the Sunderbans. I was stuck by the conversations with the local people, their state of struggle. I stayed on Bali Island, in a resort that was comfortable, simple, employed 32 of approximately 1400 villagers next door and shopped mainly from locally grown produce.
The report that owners have put in money for clinics and schools in the village makes it commendably inclusive. Still, in this UNESCO site, dire poverty is the norm.
Two nature guides from the village of Jamespur described meagre and seasonal earnings from tourism. Despite post-graduate degrees, the duo opted to live in the village, earning additional income by taking tuitions.
While tourism should be inclusive and constantly reduce its footprint, we must recognise that it can only produce limited livelihoods, and to a limited scale. Fragile ecologies like the Sunderbans can only host seasonal tourism, with modest numbers.
Growth lies elsewhere. The entry fees of Rs 30 has to be raised substantially, and the additional funds invested in villages. Green jobs and crafts must be developed to generate livelihoods. Climate change adaptation is an urgent requirement. We need another imagination for the people of this fragile land.
Go Away, Styrofoam
Languidly floating away on a boat in the Sunderbans, you will feel far away from your daily world, until a styrofoam thali or cup swims along. Although I didn’t see plastic bags, fluffy white syrofoam was a constant eyesore. It bobbed along the waters and caught my eye as white clumps on the marshy island. This plastic is not recyclable, and will disappear only when it is physically ingested by aquatic life. The dangers have been discussed in a brand new UN Report on marine plastic debris.