South Bengal, including Sunderbans, still stranded, without food and shelter as West Bengal government messes up relief and rescue
It has already been eight days after cyclone Amphan hit, but still, much of south Bengal including large parts of Kolkata remains without electricity, water and communications. The people of West Bengal are suffering the worst misery due to wrong policies and arrogant attitude of successive state governments.
Greater damage has happened to the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Poor people are still lying in water without food and shelter. About 20 million people have lost their livelihoods due to Cyclone Amphan. Croplands have been inundated with saline seawater leading to permanent loss of livelihoods for the local people.
The effect of the cyclone is accentuated by the systematic destruction of mangrove forest in Sunderbans which acts as a buffer between the sea and the land. Successive state governments have allowed the destruction of mangroves in Sundarbans, rampant deforestation and cutting of trees for human settlements, flattening of land for cultivation and seepage of dangerous saline seawater into houses and fields.
Despite repeated warnings by engineers and environmentalists, the state government failed to make concrete embankments. The makeshift dams made of mud and houses of straw and mud have all been washed away again and again. Houses made of straw, tin and mud was blown away in the storm. Every time the state government spends, but the same problem resurfaces every year.
Also, there have been major allegations of corruption against both the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress governments in the distribution of relief and rehabilitation to cyclone and flood victims over the past few years.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced a Rs 1000 crore package. But will the state government find a durable solution to the problem this time? What is the guarantee that the relief will reach the intended beneficiaries? All the funds used to build embankments after Aila storm in 2009 has been washed away by Cyclone Amphan. Not only has the state government failed to provide relief, but they do not have any concrete plans to rehabilitate the homeless and find a lasting solution to their annual misery.
The state government should immediately provide food, clothing and shelter to the stranded poor people of south Bengal. The government should convert its offices and guest houses from Canning to Gosaba as flood relief centres and immediately provide shelter to the homeless people of Sunderbans. The government should build concrete embankments to replace those build of soil and mud. They should build safe and stable dams at a minimum cost using appropriate technology.
The Bengal government should draw up a long-lasting plan to rehabilitate the vulnerable people of southern Bengal, which is one of the most cyclone and flood-prone regions of the world. The government should try to restore the mangroves to their original level, depopulate the area, rehabilitate the poor people. The state government should immediately evacuate the low lying islands including Mousuni and Marichjhapi. The state government should not give approvals for any more new resorts and businesses to come up in the Sunderbans.
The great tsunami of 2004 caused havoc in southern India and had claimed 8000 lives. However, the tribals including the Sentinelese, Jarawa and Onge had survived due to the conservation of mangroves and maintenance of the ecological balance.
It will be impossible to grow food grains for the next three years in Sunderbans due to the rise in Ph levels. Local people were unable to grow any vegetation after Aila for a few years. So the government will have to support the poor people by providing free ration and jobs to their families.
South Bengal was once a hub of maritime trade in the world with industries such as silk and cotton textile manufacturing, steel, salt pepper, agriculture and shipbuilding. It had seen a steady decline due to continuous erosion and submergence of the coastal lands and ports due to faulty policies of the British rulers and successive state governments. If the greater Bengal region has to reclaim its position as one of the wealthiest and industrial places in the world contributing to around 12% of the world’s GDP as it did in the 17th century, we need a long-term sustainable plan to stop the plight of people in south Bengal.