Old folk and the sea… at their doorstep

SAGAR ISLAND, 4 AUG: Sea waves touch the courtyard of Amina Bibi, a resident of Dhablat-Shibpur, Boatkhali, and all she can do is reserve a spot on the brick road where she would have to relocate to once her house is washed away.
While people have started collecting bamboo for constructing Durga puja pandals in city parks and grounds, residents of Boatkhali have started collecting bamboos, often from the ring embankments, to build their shanties where they will relocate once their houses are washed away in the high tide due in 10-12 days. According to the residents, their dwellings are submerged each year before the pujas and remain under water for about a month. While the people who live in the huts nearest to the sea bear the greatest brunt, those in the interiors get almost a month to prepare for the adversity.
Mr Gauri Shankar Maity, says that the sea was not so close before. Even 10 years ago, it tooki at least two hours to reach the seashore. Now, only a broken embankment is what separates his house and the sea. “As a kid when we used to go to the beach to play, I had to cross the forests, sand dunes and then came the beach. But over the years, the sea kept eating away into our land and now it’s at our doorstep. With Aila the situation turned worse,” said Mr Maity, a resident of Dhablat-Shibpur, who lost eight bighas of agricultural land to the sea. Once a farmer, he is now in search of a job.
Mr Ratikant Mullick, another resident of the village, said that he has had to rebuild his house thrice. When his house first collapsed during a storm in 1996, he built a shanty on the brick road that was again destroyed as the sea advanced. His house was again destroyed during Aila. “I have neither money nor land to fall back on. I have no other option than to stay here,” said Mr Ratikant.
Amina Bibi’s land has been destroyed because of the ingress of saline water into her fields after Aila. She now weaves fish nets. “One or two members from each family in this village have left for the city or other states in search of jobs,” she said.
According to Prof. Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies, even one-degree rise in the temperature will cause 0.78 cm of rise in sea level. In the Sunderbans, the situation is grave since the rising sea level is coupled with land subsidence. Since the late 1960s, the temperature on the islands has risen by over one degree. The number of cyclones has declined but they have grown in intensity.
“There are many who say that the Sunderbans have nothing to do with the climate change. I would invite them to come and stay in the Sunderbans to realise the truth,” said Prof Hazra.

Soma Basu

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