Managing Disaster in Sunderbans

Gautam Kumar Das

I still remember a day of my school life. I go to school for attending my routine classes, but all classes remains suspended in the school. The boys of senior classes are very much busy preparing khichuri (boiled rice with pulse and potato) in big pan and the cooked food will be sent as relief to the storm-stricken inhabitants of Haripur village whose houses and food stuff are washed away with tidal upsurge of the Saptamukhi River as a consequence of heavy storms severely blown over the area last night. This is for the first time I come to know what are cyclone and its perishing features heading for disaster. I still remember the incident of the last stormy night when tiles of our mud-built tiled house are thrown away one after another with heavy wind action and my father tries his utmost to replace them with the new one stored at the corner of cowshed with the assistance of Dhania, a local boy and our neighbour and my mother helps lighting the spot from the inside with the hurricane lifting up by her hand standing at a safe distance. After an hour-long strong blow, winds gradually calms down, but the rain keep on pouring. It is in the year 1978 when the part of the Sunderbans is flooded with the intrusion of saline water as a result of destruction of river embankment due to cyclonic storms. Perishing in a moment, with the long-term consequence, this fleeting short-lived storm is known as cyclones, causes disaster, a common natural phenomenon of the Sunderbans. Cyclones make people houseless and cause starving.

The severe cyclones formed in the Bay of Bengal, quickly strengthened to reach peak sustained winds and eventually made landfall in and around the Sunderbans, result natural disaster which are beyond human control as the disaster means the sudden misfortune and it comes without notice, though of late creation, formation and movement of the focus of cyclonic storms have been predicted by time to time forecast from IMD. The entire 25,500 sq km area of the Sunderbans (both Indian and Bangladesh part) or sometimes a part of it is affected by such cyclonic storms and they occur in massive scale with suddenness of destructive happenings. In recent times, two severe cyclones namely Sidr (15 November, 2007) and Aila (25 May, 2009) hit the Sunderbans, where damages was severe, uprooted trees, destroyed boats, jetties, contaminated fresh water ponds with the saline water as a result of tidal upsurge inside the reserved forest area and sanctuary; and caused extensive damage of crops, houses, embankments, riverside markets, educational institutions including salt water intrusion in the agricultural land and sweet water pond in the human habitation zone surrounding the reserved forest area.

Cyclonic disaster in the Sunderbans causes heavy loss of life, households and agricultural land including fisheries and create sensational unmanageable situations like loss of human lives and domestic animal-dead, scattered dead bodies washed away and injured buried under the debris, house materials etc, loss of properties, damages of huts and houses, homeless disaster victims, badly affected drinking water supply arising due to sinking of deep tube well under saline water, adverse effect on sanitation, epidemics like cholera, diarrhea etc, poisonous snake bite, maintenance of law and order and overall panic and rumours spread out due to disaster. Other than such loss of life, washed away and thrown out residential accommodation, house properties and agricultural land due to tidal upsurge, the vegetations of the tidal mangrove forest, considered as the green wall to the sea-borne cyclones, are severely damaged. The Sunderbans will require several years to recover from such natural forest damage.

Managing such cyclonic disaster in the Sunderbans requires managerial responsibilities. The disaster managers recruited by the Government sector will be much more thoughtful to go through such planning as they have to precede managerial works in a typical environment and geographical area like Sunderbans. The disaster managers will make plans like construction of well-built school building in the Sunderbans that might fulfill the requirement of a flood centre, whenever necessary. These large school buildings are to be served as shelter place for the islander-victims sharply from the storm ensuing forecast by IMD and during after-effect post-period days of the cyclones-made disaster. The structural plan of such building must fulfill the design of a flood centre where students of the island will learn lessons as usual in the remaining days as good as a Government-aided school. The island dwelling students of such school will gather practical experiences and take real lessons about the perished disaster-hit situations in the Sunderbans. Further, a chapter on disaster management with special reference to Sunderbans must be included in the syllabus of environmental studies in all classes of such school. Other than the construction of flood centre cum school building, repairing of embankment on the river banks, destroyed by cyclones are important in order to control flood tidal water flush entering into the agricultural land and fisheries. Further, scientific construction of ring bundh (embankment), duly advised by the civil engineers, is very much effective that might stop permanent damage of agricultural land and residential huts and houses in near future by the devastating waves due to cyclones subject to the payment of proper compensation without delay to the villagers whose land will be acquired for such construction. And finally, political interference must be avoided during relief distribution immediately after the menace which will make a grand success and achievement to a well-experienced disaster manager. For managing damage of the natural greens of the tidal forest, the forest department must assist in computing natural regeneration and artificial plantation, whenever and wherever it is meaningful and necessary.

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Sep 12, 2019

Gautam Kumar Das [email protected]

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