The whole world is abuzz with the effects of Climate Change and policy makers are busy issuing rules, regulations and promises to cut down carbon emission. Fair enough as we concentrate on the urbanized affected communities across the world. But, the moment we focus towards the grassroot victims of Climate Change, the situation takes a different turn and no policies and rules seems to work for them!
Situation is not different for the worst effected climate victims of Mousuni Island, with population of 22,073 as per 2011 census. Covering an area of 23 sq. km., the small island has 4200 households of which 4136 (19%) belong to the Scheduled Caste and 855 (4%) are Scheduled Tribe.
Located about 100 km towards south of Kolkata, the island has 4 mouzas- Baghdanga, Kusumtala, Baliara and Mousuni under Namkhana Community Development Block, Parganas District, and West Bengal. But this small distance creates a big difference when it comes to even basic amenities like Health, Education, Sanitation and livelihood facilities.
Mousuni first came to limelight in 2009, when the dreaded cyclone AILA hit the island sweeping away hundreds of houses leaving the coastal communities homeless and landless. Apart from loss of lives and properties, thousands of the islanders lost their livelihood. Since then, about 9 kms of embankment has been breached in western part of the island itself. Every year, a large section of the island gets submerged due to rise in sea level because of the spring equinox and embankment breaching. The dilapidated embankments are no longer suitable with the changing river dynamics.
Mansura Bibi, a Panchayat Samilty member of Mousuni GP, says, “At least 150 to 200 families living near the embankment lose their homes and lands every year. We don’t want to relocate as this is land where we were born and grew up. We just want the embankments to be repaired so that it does not get breached every year.”
The major livelihood of the communities here is agriculture and fishing. But the salt water intrusion during coastal flooding causes a huge loss to these major livelihoods. The agricultural lands turn sterile for next 3 to 4 years leaving them with no option of livelihood. Most of them specially the male members of the families end up migrating to other cities in search of odd jobs as labourers. And, the females, who are left alone to take care of the children and elderly in the families, take up the profession of prawn seed collection, which is again hazardous to the health of the women and the surrounding ecosystem. The constant dragging of nets in salt water causes several skin diseases and gynecological problems among the women. It is reported that about 48 species of juvenile finfishes are wasted per net per day per hand, which amounts to loss of about 9.834 kg.
There is a huge crisis of safe drinking water in the island. The scarcity of potable water is mainly due to high salinity problem. Mousuni GP has total 150 Tube Wells, which is not enough to fulfill the requirement of the population of more than 22000. During coastal flooding, these Tube wells get inundated and thus they become non-functional even when the water recedes. Pond water is also not safe to drink as they also get inundated by salt water during floods every year.
Saheba Bibi, one of the flood affected victims of Baliara village gush shared that her family had 3 bighas of agricultural land which got washed away in consecutive floods every year. Now, they live on a small shanty on the embankment, which might also get washed away in the next flooding. Her husband opted for fishing after losing the agricultural lands but the fish catch has decreased due to the climate change effects like rising aquatic temperature and the use of fishing gear such as big bull trawlers, mechanized boats, PVC-made trawl, bag nets etc.
The islanders are yet to get access to grid electricity. Solar power is available to around 55% families who could afford to buy and maintain the solar plates. The rest are dependent on firewood kerosene for cooking and other domestic needs. Kerosene is also not readily available and it is very costly for the islanders. Therefore, the islanders have to perforce to gather fuel wood from the adjoining mangrove forest through illegal means for cooking purposes. Such practice increases vulnerability of the island to natural disaster.
A large section of the community defecates in open fields due to lack of proper sanitation facilities which again lead to various communicable diseases. The Primary Health center with one visiting doctor and 3 nurses is not enough to support the total population’s healthcare. They visit the island only twice a week. Due to lack of knowledge and non-availability and affordability of the community, the children suffer from malnutrition and pregnant mothers undergo the pain of miscarriages.
Rozina Khatun, a 22 year old woman shared the pain she had to undergo while giving birth to her daughter few months back. The lady had to travel 45 minutes by a motor van though bumpy roads as there is no pucca road or other modes of communication available within the island. The only Primary Health center is situated in Baghdanga village, which doesn’t have good connectivity with the other villages. There are several cases of miscarriage due to the lack of proper healthcare facility and dilapidated road condition.
SEED (Society for Socio Economic and Ecological Development), ventured in Mousuni Island after the cyclone in July 2014. Apart from some relief works, the organization distributed salt tolerant paddy varieties to 55 farmers whose agricultural lands were inundated with salt water. This was done with support from the Rice Research Institute, Government of West Bengal. However, this is just a temporary support and cannot come to the rescue of the aggravating situation of the island.
Hence, a thorough plan with action research needs to be done to address all the issues in a sustainable manner. Starting from safe drinking water, proper energy supply, health, sanitation and alternative livelihood options need to be explored with active community participation and support of local administration.
Several organizations ventured into the island with some temporary infrastructure support. But, due to lack of sustainable vision and maintenance, they are now in dilapidated condition. The sinking Island needs a foolproof embankment planning with modern technology and design along with infrastructure and livelihood support to protect this vulnerable climate change hot spot from further deprivation. Lack of domestic adaptation policies is also a big hindrance on the way of dealing with the changing climate in Mousuni which needs immediate attention.