West Bengal faces the brunt of cyclones in the low-line coastal areas

The eastern India especially the coastal areas of West Bengal has been devastated by powerful cyclones such as Amphan, and Yaas; one after another. 

By Kusumika Das

Bhulu Das who is a fisherman in the profession and his family can’t forget that day – 20th May 2020, a sad as well as a fearful day for them and for all the people of Sundarbans which they shudder to recall. It was like a normal day; his daughter Nandini was getting ready for her school. Suddenly they heard the announcement from the local Panchayet not to get out of their houses if it is not an emergency as a howling wind is going to hit Sundarbans within 2-3 hours. Rest is history; cyclone “Amphan” hit West Bengal on that very day causing horrific devastation; the consequences of which were beyond their imagination and stayed for long.  He adds, “I have never heard or seen anything like this in my entire life. I couldn’t sleep from that day which continued for the next seven days. At one point of time, I felt like I’m going to die soon and that is what God wishes.”

Cyclone Amphan hit the coastal regions of West Bengal such as Digha, and Hatiya on the afternoon of May 20, 2020. A severe cyclonic storm with sustained wind speeds of 155-165 kilometers per hour spiraling up to 185 kilometers per hour hit those areas. Just after a year, on May 27, Cyclone Yaas, the second natural calamity hit the coastal areas of West Bengal including Sundarbans, and Diamond Harbour and wreaked havoc claiming several lives and causing severe damage to the property, amid the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Every year, the number of casualties in the coastal areas is increasing because of high-intensity cyclones, floods, changes in rainfall patterns, cloud bursts, saline water ingress and coastal erosion due to accelerated sea-level rise. Here Mr. Dipankar Nath, the Deputy Ranger of Sundarbans Forest Department says, “I really feel sorry while saying this being a govt. official but I can’t help it.  Though we are trying our best you know that the relationship between the environment and politics is becoming stronger day by day. The storm is becoming more disastrous because of the cutting down of Mangrove Forest in Sundarbans to serve personal profit purposes of the politicians.” Actually, mangroves work as a buffer zone in there, whenever the cyclone hit the coastal areas, Mangroves reduce the height and energy of wind and swell waves passing through them, reducing their ability to erode sediments and to cause damage to structures such as dikes and sea walls. 

According to the MODIS Satellite Data, in the last ten years, the temperature in the coastal areas is increasing and is expected to rise by more than 1 degree C by 2050 and is likely to cross the threshold of 2 degrees C rising the rate of coastal erosion, cyclone and coastal flooding. The main reason behind this is pollution in the urban areas; due to excessive emission of greenhouse gases from the plants and limitless usage of plastic bags, the CO2 is increasing in the air which is causing global warming and another climate system-related negative effects. Here Nandini Nath who’s a college student as well as a resident of Diamond Harbour says mockingly,” Urban people are polluting and we are suffering. What an irony!”

However, both the cyclones Yaas and Amphan have caused tremendous damage to livelihood and property; the financial havoc is huge. Swathes of ponds and agricultural fields have also been flooded with saltwater due to the breach of embankments in several areas and thus the residents have lost their basic sources of earning which led to starvation for days. Aniket who is the president of Himalayan Club, Kolkata Division went to Mollakhali, Hingolgonj – villages of Sundarbans for relief work purposes says, There are two big issues that the coastal people face as the aftermath of any cyclone, first is as those areas remain waterlogged for a couple of days the sanitary system basically collapse and acute shortage of drinking water is the next issue that they face as their main source of drinking water tube wells drown under the saline water of the sea.”

Though the govt is taking several steps to empower coastal people and redress their issues such as making “Women-centric self-help groups”, providing 100 days of work, etc. the most important part is getting ignored for a long and that is education. The coastal people are not educated enough to take proper measures to address their problems and that is the core reason of them being lagged behind. Govt. should take proper steps so that they can think about themselves and develop.