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VICHAAR: Conservation Strategies for the Sundarbans Region in India

In Conversation with Dr. Abhiroop Chowdhury

In this edition of Vichaar, Team Azaad Awaaz was in conversation with Dr. Abhiroop Chowdhury about conservation strategies for the Sundarbans region in India. He talks to us about the importance of the Sundarbans, how and why it is unique, the challenges its local population faces and explains in detail the history of the region and the conservation projects that are being undertaken to protect it from climate change.

He begins by telling us about the unique nature of the Sundarbans, which is a Gangetic delta that is formed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers.

It is also the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem that is spread between parts of India and Bangladesh and is home to a dense population of 4.6 million people on the Indian side. The mangroves are vital to the ecosystem as they protect the land from seawater, and the depletion of the mangroves would eventually cause the soil to become saline causing it to become infertile.

He explains how the mangrove areas protect the region from natural disasters such as cyclones, which are increasing in their frequency over the past few decades.

Currently, the region is being observed to experience a cyclone nearly every year, which causes great destruction and displacement of people.

Professor Abhiroop talks to us about the local population and the struggles they face living in the Sundarbans. They are not natives of the land but were forced to migrate to the Sundarbans by the British Raj in the early 20th Century.

They are historically marginalized communities that have little access to basic resources and amenities. He emphasizes the importance of employing a conservation strategy that involves the local population and states that it is “impossible to protect the Sundarbans without the people that live there.”

The Sundarbans do not have many opportunities for the locals to earn which causes them to migrate to other parts of the country as laborers. As a result of the lockdown due to COVID-19, most have had to come back to the Sundarbans.

They have little income due to which they seek other ways to earn money. A very common route is by hunting and selling tigers in the black market. This dangerous pursuit often causes many to lose their lives.

Professor Abhiroop then talks to us about the history of the conservation of the Sundarbans and the various conservation projects that are being undertaken in the region, and what challenges the locals, the government, and the non-governmental organizations that work there face while working to solve the problem.

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