Good News Notes:
“As sea levels rise, eroding embankments and pushing water closer to their doorsteps, the residents of the hundreds of villages in the Sundarbans — an immense network of rivers, tidal flats, small islands and vast mangrove forests straddling India and Bangladesh — have found their lives and livelihoods at risk.
In the absence of much government support, women like Aparna Dhara, with help from a nonprofit environmental conservation organisation, have devised their own solution: planting hundreds of thousands of additional mangrove trees to bolster their role as protective barriers.
“Our land and livelihoods have been battered many times over by raging cyclones and unpredictable, heavy rains,” said Dhara, 30, as she and the other women in the boat discussed where they needed to plant more trees. “The rhythm of our lives is dependent on the ebb and flow of the water around us, making the mangroves our lifelines.”
Their mission has a devastating backstory.
After Cyclone Aila slammed into the region in 2009, causing floods and mudslides, nearly 200 people lost their lives. The storm exposed the increasing dangers posed by climate change to the millions of people living in the low-lying Sundarbans, thousands of square miles of wetland jutting into the Bay of Bengal.
Amid the rising waters, crocodiles have begun entering villages. Erratic monsoon seasons have replaced more predictable ones. And higher salinity in the water has killed off fish “as if the entire area had been crushed under the thumb,” said Ajanta Dey, a Kolkata-based conservationist.
The harm has been disproportionately felt by the most marginalised in the Sundarbans, whose population on India’s side of the border is about 4.5 million. Many live in areas reached only after dayslong boat trips.
A few years ago, as Dey went around documenting the post-cyclone wreckage, women like Dhara approached her and pointed to areas where their homes had once stood. Dey suggested planting more mangroves between existing embankments and open water. By 2015, over 15,000 women had signed up to for the mission, according to Dey, program director at Nature Environment and Wildlife Society.
While all are welcome to participate, many men from the Sundarbans migrate to cities for work, meaning it is the villages’ women who are often leading the climate change fight.
The women, drawing on their deep knowledge of the Sundarbans, make hand-drawn maps of areas where mangroves can be planted. They nurture seeds into saplings and then, in baskets or on boats, transport the young trees and dig in the mud flats to plant them. Later, they track their growth on a mobile app.
In Dhara’s village, Lakshmipur, the number of acres covered with mangroves has grown to 2,224 from 343 in the last decade. In areas that had been barren-looking mud flats just a few years ago, cranes, gulls and herons abound in the flat rounded leaves of the mangrove trees.
Mangroves, found only in tropical and subtropical climates, are distinctive for their ability to survive in brackish water. Research has shown mangrove forests to be an excellent way to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially the storm surge accompanying cyclones, by reducing the height and speed of waves. Mangroves also help reduce greenhouse gases, as they have high rates of carbon capture…..”