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Home / India News / Decade after Cyclone Aila, saline water will continue to haunt farms in Sunderbans

Decade after Cyclone Aila, saline water will continue to haunt farms in Sunderbans

Of the 102 islands in Sunderbans, 52 are inhabited by 4.5 million people and the rest are tiger territories.

india Updated: May 24, 2020 00:27 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya and Joydeep Thakur
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya and Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, Sunderbans
A visit to the cyclone-hit areas of the Sunderbans region in the districts of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas revealed that area after area was inundated, with crops on the field ruined and fishes in the ponds dead.
A visit to the cyclone-hit areas of the Sunderbans region in the districts of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas revealed that area after area was inundated, with crops on the field ruined and fishes in the ponds dead.(PTI PHOTO.)

A major humanitarian crisis looms large over the Sunderbans region, as Cyclone Amphan has left thousands of acres of land inundated with saline water, virtually rendering the land unfit for cultivation for several years to come, local people, public representatives and experts fear.

Cyclone Aila of 2009 had left a similar effect. As the land turned infertile for four-five years, a section of the local farm-dependent population became dependent on forest produce, effectively increasing stress on the eco-sensitive zone of the world’s largest mangrove forest, while another section migrated in thousands to other states, especially India’s southern states, to work as labourers.

“I am deeply worried about the situation and have started looking for agriculture experts who could suggest ways to reduce salinity from the farmland as early as possible. With loss of jobs and uncertainty over the economic prospect due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the loss of productivity in farmland is coming as a double whammy. A major humanitarian crisis is looming large,” Pratima Mandal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP from Jaynagar in South 24-Parganas said.

Of the 102 islands in Sunderbans, 52 are inhabited by 4.5 million people and the rest are tiger territories. Another 2 million living around the islands have been hit by saline water coming through the rivers of Matla, Raymangal, Bidyadhari and Muri Ganga, among others.

A visit to the cyclone-hit areas of the Sunderbans region in the districts of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas revealed that area after area was inundated, with crops on the field ruined and fishes in the ponds dead. But a fear of the long-term loss due to increased salinity in farmland was greatest among the local residents.

“The water logged in the fields has no way to ebb. Rather, through the breached embankments, saline water will keep entering with every high tide. These lands will turn infertile for the next three-four years, we apprehend,” Manas Mahato, Pradhan of Atpukur gram panchayat in Basirhat sub-division of North 24-Parganas district said.

Subhas Acharya, a former joint-director of the Sunderbans Development Board, had a similar opinion. “Cyclone Aila had crippled life in the delta. I apprehend a similar situation this time again,” he said, adding that due to the 4m high storm surge of Cyclone Aila saline water had gushed into the villages and crop lands remained inundated in saline water for nearly a month in several areas allowing the salt to settle down on the farmlands.

“This made the land infertile for years. The gaping holes in the river embankments created by the waves allowed the saline water to freely enter the croplands whenever there were tides. The delta it’s awaiting another humanitarian crisis,” said Acharya.

Sandeshkhali MLA Sukumar Mahato and Minakhan MLA Usharani Mondal said that saline water had been stagnant in hundreds of acres of land in their areas till Saturday afternoon and that they anticipated the water would remain logged for the time being.

Biswarup Naskar, a resident of Kakdwip area in South 24-Parganas said that the flooding of sweet water ponds had caused a multi-dimensional crisis. “Apart from the economic loss for the fishes killed and swept away, there is no food or water for the cattle. The pond water was used to irrigate the crops and backyard farms. The cattle used to drink this water. Villagers have started selling off their cattle,” said Naskar.

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