By Simi Mehta
The Sunderban’s Delta has a rich mix of flora and fauna. This is true for both the Indian and the Bangladeshi side of the largest mangrove forest of the world. Unfortunately, the human population are faced with low levels of development and their lives are prone to several threats arising out of environmental extremes. In turn, this has compromised on the health, education, nutrition, livelihood and overall security of the population. As a result, the region is experiencing large scale migration- oftentimes spilling over as cross-border movements.
To understand Delta Vision 2050 instituted by the policy makers of India and Bangladesh, and its objectives for the betterment of the lives better for the people, the IMPRI Center for Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), New Delhi have organized a special lecture on “Delta Vision 2050: policy, practice, and people“, under #WebPolicyTalk under The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks with Dr. Debjani Bhattacharyya and Dr. Megnaa Mehtta.
A vision to conserve biodiversity and livelihood
Starting with the moderator of the session Dr. Simi Mehta stated that Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world and actually home to over 4 million people who inhabit almost 50 islands that are spread across the sovereign territory in India and Bangladesh. However, the majority of people live their lives in utter misery and poverty which are widened by natural disasters and environmental extremes exaggerated by climate change. This leads to large-scale migration from the islands to the mainland in search of decent work and shelter turning them into environmental refugees. Delta Vision 2050 was launched to address the difficulties faced by the people with the aim to improve their condition and also to protect Sundarbans.
What is the vision delta 2050 and how it could be improved?
Dr. Megnaa at first, gave a basic understanding of the 2050 Delta Vision itself, as it is an important region to the ecology of the whole area, but this area is quite vulnerable. These are endangered by floods and water overflows, but these have become quite prevalent in recent times because of climate change to tackle the issue this vision was created.
This vision, which was made by the WWF, is a phased plan in which, the population living in the area would leave the same and this would find shelter in the neighboring districts, then mangrove restoration would be started, various settlements in the area would be converted into a forest itself.
The main goal is to promote the ecological environment of the place and increase tourism which will eventually promote mangrove regeneration, which depends on when the area is evacuated. She criticized this approach and stated the lack of environmental humanities has led to such an approach which led to distorting many settled lively hoods. She also brought to attention that how tourism can threaten nature as a whole and how could it impact the Sundarbans itself and how it could change things, which need to be looked over.
“Problems recognized by the plan are quite relevant, steps that are recommended are insufficient and bolder steps should be taken to protect this natural gem.” -Dr. Megnaa.
She further explained the kind of differences and problems people who are getting displaced could be facing because of moving them, and how currently the state is not supporting them. She also unfolded that plan focuses on the economic development of the areas which could be very problematic because at first, the economic quest brought the condition to the area. She added that the delta is difficult and developing it is not easy.
“Commoditizing nature and putting an economic value to it in meshing and unfolding people in capitalist markets of consuming, buying, and selling to save nature has probably put us into kind of ecological crisis that we are currently in.” Says Dr. Megnaa.
Role of collaboration between nations and projects to change the outcome
Dr Debjani explained the manner in which the bilateral cooporation between India and Bangladesh to develop Sundarbans, could differently change the area, and how it is very essential rather than betterment. She highlighted that there is a difference in the approach in both the nation’s economic explanation of the area and how the Indian approach to understanding this leaves out various social and political factors along with some specialized economic damages.
Dr Debjani spoke about how the mobilization of the whole population of the area could differently impact people with different economic backgrounds. She emphasized the issue of climate change and significance of the next couple of decades for saving the Planet Earth from an impending climate emergency. She warned that removing the population from Sundarbans would change and impact the area from worse, rather than for good. She used her understanding of how the river of Delaware was cleaned up to use and clear up the whole Sundarbans area.
Dr Debjani spoke about how this forest could work as carbon sink, which could absorb and reduce carbon emissions, this is a major step taken by the Bangladesh of carbon mitigation and showing exponent results, but some reports have brought how would it make the forest depends most marginalized and vulnerable. She provided an argument on how the development of the nation, the tribal and forest residents have willingly given their land and were treated poorly by the state for the redevelopment of the community.
An important social and economic resource base
Dr Reazul Ahsan highlighted how the ecosystem of Sundarbans has influenced the economy and consumer products which are made in Bangladesh. He also brought how natural calamities like storms brought difficulties for the people living in the region, and how the changes brought by its influence the economic activities not only in supply but in long-term damages. He further focued on the possible implications on the impact on the economy if the area of Sundarbans was removed. He stressed that the relocation of the population would not only damage them but how their very pristine culture would be changed and their land would be snatched from their hands.
“Planned or forced displacement may not work, we need to find an alternative to place those people in the same place”, said Dr. Reazul.
Dynamics and Vulnerabilities of Delta
Further, Dr. Debojyoti Das presented his views on the importance of such deliberations and their incorporation in the policy debates. He brought to light that the sociological perspective of the people should be brought and should be given importance in the policymaking and must be instituted.
“It’s important to understand the knowledge of communities while being critical about the idea of migration”, said Dr Debojyoti.
Highlighting the insights about the issues and points that were brought out by the discussants. Dr. Debjani talked about how the important issue of how migration could be a task in India’s contested political climate, how this xenophobic Bengali identity has changed the land conflicts in this delta. She also brought the issue of Australia and the sale of coal and the nation’s ignorance of the climate conference, and she emphasized the change in the nature and style of living that is very much needed in the global north, which would only lead to the development of the global south.
Dr. Megnaa then brought the important ecological insights and how the perception of the people regarding the Sundarbans has been the same, regarding the flora and fauna, it is the essential part, but they can’t ignore the inhabitants of the are which are living there for centuries.
She also brought her observations while working around Sundarbans, rather how difficult living in the area is for the normal citizen when the large fold of the wildlife lives in the area. She also highlighted how the lives of the citizens of the area are not divided by the border, but they live life as living in the same country. But recent developments along this fluid border and the presence of border security force and complete militarization of the area have made life difficult for them.
Pertinent Questions and Concluding Remarks
Answering a question about the nature of the moving border of Sundarbans, Dr Megnaa spoke about how this moving away from the border is essential in their life, in their day-to-day relations since many have acquired this way of living. How this is not possible to put them in an urban area would disrupt their way of living and manner of living.
She responded to queries from the audience the precarity of labor rights and the issue of the informal sector, how it is largely ignored, and the right of laborers who are left unprotected by them. They also believe that the people living in the Sundarbans should play a good role in promoting policy in their area because their living hood is quite difficult than any area, with the help of various experts in marine biology to policymakers.
At last, all the speakers presented their concluding remarks and arguments but also suggested their way forwards for the more equitable development of the area, it was suggested to use citizen science, change the approach of policymaking, inclusion of sociological environmental studies of the area is needed with a better macro-level understanding of the implications.
“We need to have trans-regional and transboundary research”, said Dr. Debojyoti. “There is a need for observing and learning from indigenous communities of delta rather than intervening with ideas of displacement and replacement”, opined Dr. Reazul. “We require small creative solutions blended with local knowledge that can play a significant role in improving lives,” added Dr. Megnna.
Acknowledgment: Ayush Aggarwal, research intern at IMPRI