India’s 8,118 km coastline is a playground for adverse events engendered by climate change. GoI estimates the sea level along the coastline is rising on average by 1.7 mm a year. The rise is not uniform. Some parts are under greater threat. For example, as TOI’s reports show, the Sundarbans in Bengal is at the receiving end of both rising sea levels and extreme events. Battered by four cyclones in two years, with Yaas being the last one, people have begun leaving two islands, Mousuni and Ghoramara.
Sundarbans is the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest, with about 40% of its 10,200 sqkm area in India. Its vulnerability to tropical cyclones was brought out in a World Bank study last year. The cumulative impact of these events may lead to a situation in 30 years where in many areas water salinity will almost equal ocean salinity. This poses a larger challenge for India. Without freshwater, retreat of habitat in some areas is inevitable. Sundarbans is just one case of potentially many that shows why we need a sharper focus on climate change adaptation.
GoI set up a National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change six years ago. Some of the money is spent on cyclone defences such as embankments. But in the Sundarbans they have been repeatedly breached, leading to seawater ingress. At this stage, the fund needs greater focus on the next stage of adaptation, managed retreat. A retreat is happening in the Sundarbans, but without adequate state support. A transition to new livelihoods can only be eased through state handholding. India has 4 million people who depend on marine fishing. Some will need serious help during relocation, which comes with loss of critical assets. Millions can’t just be left to deal with extreme weather events.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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