Climate resilience and the climate refugees: A study of Indian Sunderbans

Climate resilience and the climate refugees: A study of Indian Sunderbans

Sahana BOSE (India)

Central University of Assam, Diphu, India

Sunderbans islands, the world’s largest mangrove estuarines shared by India and Bangladesh is one of the most geographically challenged regions of the world where loss of forests, lands and habitats are the major issues due to sea level rise in recent years. Santhal, Oraon, Munda and Ho migrant tribes in the Indian Sunderbans , working as agricultural labourers or cultivating small farms, locally known as ‘Adivasis’ are the actual climate refugees of the region. Their very frequent displacement from one island to another within a span of 5years has created a wide range of ecological and socio-economic problems leading to humanitarian crisis. These climate refugees are the world’s most poor people who do not even earn 10 US dollar per month.

This region is an example par excellence which represents absolute failures of adaptation due to climate change impacts. There exist no rehabilitation programme for these climate change refugees and there is extremely poor community participation of them in decisions making process that affect their lives. The sunderbans serve as a natural barrier that reduces the impact of storm and flooding on the rest of the country. This is one of the cyclone-prone parts of the world, so the buffer provided by these forests is critical. This region is also experiencing sea level rise at an average rate of 3.14mm per year along with a population density of more than 1100 person per square kilometres. Again the massive influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrant has created social marginalization among rural population, disguised unemployment, scarcity of land for agriculture, decrease in agricultural yield and food insecurity. It is devilishly hard to come up with a reliable figure for a total number of people likely to be displaced by climate change. There is an enormous uncertainty. Sunderbans mangroves represents South Asia’s largest carbon sink which mops up carbon dioxide must survive to help prevent global warming.

This paper talks about-

1) How the climate refugees/indigenous population could be rehabilitated?  How this groups can help in adaptation process if they are taken in the decision making process, what indigenous climate change adaptation techniques they have which be implemented to bring climate resilience? What kind of plans should be implemented for them and for how long? There are wide differences between the plans and policies implemented by the government for this poor people and the actual ground realities. Revising of older plans should be made after discussing the problems with these people.

2) There have been significant failures in development planning and strategies on the part of local and national governments, compromising the capacity of locals to adapt effectively. In absence of planning and institutional support, people have little choice but to adapt on their own.

3) How government and other stakeholders still can save this region if these neglected groups are supported to discover alternate source of livelihoods?



At present working as an Assistant Professor, Assam University, Diphu, a place in the Northeastern part of India. Invited as panelist by UNEP in the Third Asia-Pacific Climate change adaptation Forum, Inchoen, Korea, Also participated as discussant in  Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research, Potsdam, Germany and Stanley Foundation , U.S.A. Area of specialization- environmental security issues related to Indo-Bangladesh Border. Worked with the indigenous people of Indian Sunderban Regions related to climate change impacts. Participated and presented papers in many international conferences both in India and abroad.

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