Vulnerable Sundarbans islanders use technology against climate change threats

Posted on 09 April 2009    
The 20,000 residents of tiny, vulnerable Mousuni Island in the Indian Sundarbans are using technology to protect themselves from climate change-related threats – including deadly cyclones and rising sea levels – now impacting more and more severely upon them.
© WWF-India/Anne-Marie P Singh
Mousuni, India: The 20,000 residents of tiny, vulnerable Mousuni Island in the Indian Sundarbans are using technology to protect themselves from climate change-related threats – including deadly cyclones and rising sea levels – now impacting more and more severely upon them.

WWF recently inaugurated a Climate Adaptation Centre on the island, which aims to help Mousuni villagers better handle climate change by providing integral services such as an electronic early warning system, disaster preparedness kits, knowledge, resources and skills for adapting to climate impacts and educational materials for students.

Low lying Mousuni Island, at 24 sq km, is the second most vulnerable of the islands, but the information gathered by the new station will assist Mousuni and neighbouring sea-facing islands in the Sundarbans.

Additional climate change threats to Mousuni include tidal surges, increased soil and water salinity and sea-level rise. The southern part of the island is expected to lose more than 15 percent of its landmass by 2020 because of rising sea levels, according to WWF-India

While the population on the island has been on the increase, the size of the island has diminished because of sea-level rise. The cyclones and tidal surges have destroyed the communities by breaching embankments, wrecking homes and destroying harvests because of salt-water incursion from the sea.

“Mousuni island is in peril,” said Anurag Danda, Head of WWF India’s Sundarbans Programme. “Its neighbouring island, Sagar, is recording a relative sea level rise of 3.14 mm which is alarming. We have to work towards increasing the adaptive capacities of the communities before it is too late.”

Other adaptation strategies introduced by WWF have included the re-introduction of indigenous salt-tolerant rice plants to farmers on the island. As the market value of this variety (tal mugur) is not far behind other high-yielding varieties, farmers on the island have been successful in maintaining their livelihoods without having to worry about losing crops to salt water incursion.

The Climate Adaptation Centre provides rice seeds to the farmers and also holds information about the various varieties of rice, their market values and benefits of government schemes and programmes.

“These problems are similar in deltas all over the world,” said Arjan Berkhuysen, Delta Expert with WWF-Netherlands. “WWF is looking for natural solutions that respect the dynamics of the system while helping people towards sustainable development in the face of climate change.”

WWF-India, in partnership with WWF-Netherlands, Hewlett Packard and GTZ inaugurated the center on March 29. It houses an electronic early warning system – to warn villagers of impending environmental disasters – information on livelihood diversification through salt tolerant rice and inland fisheries and a book bank to loan students on the island material to help further their education.

The early warning system has been linked to Jadavpur University in Kolkata and will receive messages whenever there is an oncoming disaster. The Centre also houses relief material such as stretchers, torches and medical aid.

An organized Disaster Management Team, comprising village youths, also has been put together to physically mobilize the community towards safety in the event of a disaster.

These efforts have been made possible by organizations and corporations that have partnered with WWF.

“Climate change is probably one of the most significant environmental challenges that the world faces today,” said Bina Raj-Debur, Director, Corporate Marketing, HP India. “Hewlett Packard’s collaboration with WWF and investments in their projects are part of our comprehensive social investments and environmental strategies that makes use of HP technology to help reduce our own environmental impact, as well as that of our partners, suppliers and customers.”

The 20,000 residents of tiny, vulnerable Mousuni Island in the Indian Sundarbans are using technology to protect themselves from climate change-related threats – including deadly cyclones and rising sea levels – now impacting more and more severely upon them.
© WWF-India/Anne-Marie P Singh Enlarge

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