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How India, Bangladesh perceive, manage Sunderbans amidst climate change

By IMRPI Team

The effects of climate change have been evident, and there have been a lot of debates around the changes to be made locally to help and save the earth. In this light, the nations met at the COP 26 conference recently. To discuss this further, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a panel discussion on “COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptations in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans” under the #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks.
The talk was chaired by Dr Jayanta Basu, Director, Non-profit EnGIO, Faculty at Calcutta University and an Environmental Journalist, The Telegraph, ABP. The Moderator of the event, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI, started the discussion by stressing the talk on the living conditions of people living in the Sunderbans Delta from both the countries, i.e. India and Bangladesh. According to the report by Weather Underground, 26 out of 35 deadliest tropical cyclones in the world have been recorded in this region, and COVID-19 Pandemic has added a new dimension to the Delta’s environment. She invited the panellists to start the discussion in light of the recently concluded COP 26 in Glasgow.
Dr Basu started the conversation by stating some facts about Climate Change in the Sunderbans Delta. The Sunderbans is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world due to Climate Change, which spread between India and Bangladesh. Sunderbans has a population of 4.5 million, a high population density, and a lower per capita income. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the return period of a cyclone in the Sunderbans delta is 1.6 years for all king of cyclones and 2.6 years for high-intensity cyclones. Sunderbans are also becoming more vulnerable regarding the number of disasters and topographical median of cyclones. This area also witnesses an 8 mm sea rise yearly, more than double the world average. Sunderbans area has also seen an erosion of about 210 square kilometres in the last five decades.
Dr Basu stated that with this amount of vulnerability in the region, there is a need for adaptation measures to minimize the impact of climate change. Talking about the measures, Dr Basu proposed some strategies that can help the local community combat Climate Change. A joint effort by India and Bangladesh can help in overcoming the challenge. Both the countries should learn from each other for the adaptation measure. The legalized eco-tourism can be a game-changer for Sunderbans in adaptation, which can add to local people’s resilience and open additional opportunities related to the economy, livelihood and sustainable development of the region. Other measures that need research are alternative sources of livelihood such as water transportation, green industries, and mangrove plantation that do not affect the local environment.
Prof Souvanic Roy, Professor, Department of Architecture, Town and Regional Planning and Founder-Director at the School of Ecology, Infrastructure and Human Settlement Management, Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST), Shibpur based his talks on the presentation ‘COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptation in Indian Sunderbans.’ Locally led Adaptation is a new way of building climate resilience that centres on the priorities, expertise and knowledge of local people, communities and organizations on the frontlines of Climate change. Speaking about Sunderbans: Dynamics and Dilemmas, Prof Roy talked about the region’s various issues and challenges and shared photographs related to vulnerability. In his presentation, Prof Roy also said about the State Response in terms of Hard Infrastructure and relief systems such as Cyclone shelters, Public Distribution systems, Rural Employment Guarantee schemes, Cash transfers etc. in case of disasters. Prof Roy suggested Community-Led Adaptation (CLA) strategies such as:
  • Decentralized Planning (Micro Planning) to understand and analyse the local problems of the community by various participatory tools and propose development accordingly.
  • Participatory Budgeting is the resource allocation, i.e. untied funds coming to the region, and distribution is done according to the community feedback.
  • It is strengthening Cooperatives/Self-Help Groups (SHGs)/EDCs that can help in the capacity building of the locals as well as government officials. These organizations act as a bridge between local communities and governments.
Prof Roy concluded his presentation by telling the need to shift the status quo from the current top-down approach to Community-Led Adaptation, where locals have greater power and resources to build transformative resilience.
Prof Andy Large, Professor of River Science at the Newcastle University, UK and Principal Investigator and Director at UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub, shared a presentation ‘COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptation in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans – Interdisciplinary Research in UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub.’ Prof Large tried to answer some of his presentation’s essential questions, such as “How are the deltas changing? What are the consequences of such changes?” He told eight principles of Local Led Adaptation:
  • Devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level,
  • Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty,
  • Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily,
  • Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, children, youth, displaced, indigenous peoples & marginalized ethnic groups,
  • Flexible programming and learning,
  • Investing in local capabilities,
  • Collaborative action and investment.
Prof Saleem Ul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and Professor at the Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), focused his discussion on COP 26 event stating the positives and negatives of the event. There had not been enough investment in adaptation, and there needs to be a lot more. The developed countries offered to double their funding for adaptation and make it more effective in terms of reaching the vulnerable group around the globe. Prof Saleem also provided insights into Nature-Based Solutions, which are very relevant for discussion in the context of the Sunderbans in India and Bangladesh. In his extempore, he talked about the forward-looking points in how we overcome the barriers and problems that are getting worse related to the condition of Sunderbans.
Prof Manoj Roy, Assistant Professor in Sustainability, Lancaster University, UK, spoke about the current scenario of research activities undertaken as research activists to produce change on the ground. Talking about Locally Led Adaptation, Prof Manoj said it helps bring the international issues from COP 26 table to the local level – communities of Sunderbans. The climate change issues need to be addressed at the public level so that the local public can be made aware and resilient. Local Led Adaptation plays a much more important role in such areas.
Dr Upasana Ghosh, Faculty, Indian Institute of Public Health, Bhubaneswar made a presentation on ‘Community-based or Community Led Adaptation Dilemmas in Trans-Boundary Sunderbans.’ In their presentation, they talked about the differences in how India and Bangladesh perceive and manage Sunderbans. In Bangladesh, Sunderbans means the reserve forest, while in India, Sunderbans means the entire Biosphere reserve, incorporating human settlement. Talking about Well-Being and identities amidst changing climate, Dr Ghosh told the transition in culture of local communities of Sunderbans.
Dr Debojyoti Das, Anthropologist of South Asia; Principal Investigator, SSRC Environmental Refugees Project made a presentation on ‘Environmental Refugees and Adaptation: Four Nation – Indian Ocean Comparative Case Study.’
Dr Basu then opened the floor to questions after an interesting and constructive conversation. On a range of topics, panellists provided some intriguing views, observations, and remarks, as well as raised some pertinent concerns. Dr Basu requested the panellists to deliver their concluding thoughts as the panel discussion neared its conclusion.
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Acknowledgement: Utkarsh Dwivedi, research intern at IMPRI

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