Sunderbans left unfit for farmingUpdated: May 23, 2020 23:44 IST
SUNDERBANS: A major humanitarian crisis threatens the Sunderbans region, as Cyclone Amphan has left thousands of acres of land inundated with saline water, rendering the land unfit for agriculture for several years to come, local people, public representatives and experts fear.
The cyclone Aila of 2009 had left behind a similar effect. As the land turned infertile for four to five years, a section of the local farm-dependent population came to rely on forest produces, effectively increasing stress on the eco-sensitive zone of the world’s largest mangrove forest. 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,” said Pratima Mandal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP from Jaynagar in South 24-Parganas.
Of the 102 islands in the 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 how area after area were 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 on the fields has no way to go out. Rather, through the breached embankments, saline water will keep entering with every high tide. These lands will remain infertile for the next three-four years, we apprehend,” said Manas Mahato, pradhan of Atpukur gram panchayat in Basirhat sub-division of North 24-Parganas district.
Subhas Acharya, a former joint director of Sunderbans Development Board, agreed. “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 Aila saline water roared into the villages and croplands remained inundated in saline water for nearly a month in several areas allowing the salt to settle down on the croplands.
“This made the land infertile for years. The gaping holes in the rivers’ 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 kept hundreds of acres of land in their areas till Saturday afternoon and that they anticipate the water will 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 have caused a multidimensional 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.