Every year the Sunderbans is losing Rs. 670 crore because of ecosystem degradation and loss in biodiversity, a report prepared by the World Bank and West Bengal government has warned.
Add to this another 620 crore if you want to take into account the total health costs which the villagers living in the delta are paying because of increased prevalence of diseases.
“Climate change and human pressure are taking a heavy toll on the Sunderbans. It has been estimated that the total loss is around 1,290 crore which the delta is suffering,” said Tapas Paul, senior environment specialist of World Bank in India.
Scientists had been saying for long that the Sunderbans is degrading at an alarming rate. But this is probably the first time they have pegged the loss in monetary terms.
The report ‘Building Resilience for Sustainable Development of the Sunderbans’ was prepared by World Bank and West Bengal government.
The losses stem from a combination of factors such as mangrove destruction, reduced agricultural yields, loss suffered because of cyclones and loss of other ecosystem services, the report explains.
“The estimated costs are from six damage categories. Damage costs from cyclones are the highest at 290 crore and include damage to houses, agriculture, human injuries and fatalities,” the report said.
Another major loss comes from the catching of shrimps by village women and children. They by-catch such as other fishes and marine animals are just thrown away resulting in huge biodiversity loss.
The Sunderbans, a World Heritage Site and home to thousands of plants and animal species, spreads over India and Bangladesh.
In India it covers 9,600 sq km and comprises 102 islands of which 54 are inhabited by 4.5 million people.
“The dense mangrove system acts like a sponge absorbing most of the momentum of the storms and cyclones before they could hit Kolkata. It thus saves the city from being destroyed. But this system is at risk now because of climate change and human pressure are threatening the delta,” said Pranabesh Sanyal, former chief of the state forest department.
The study has also taken into account the cost of shrimp losses, carbon sequestration losses associated with degradation of mangrove forest, soil salinity in terms of impact on rice yields, loss of biodiversity and agricultural land due to sea level rise.
The main environmental health risks in the Sundarbans are inadequate water supply for sanitation and hygiene and household air pollution from use of solid cooking fuels.
These risk factors caused an estimated 3,800 deaths and 1.9 million cases of illness every year.
Sunderban experts such as Subhash Acharya said climate change-triggered natural calamities such as vanishing islands, cyclones with greater intensity, sea level rise has already rendered many people homeless and have stripped many more of their properties.