Cyclone Amphan destroys Sundarban delta, UNESCO’s world heritage site

sunderbans national park kolkotta

Embankments in the Sundarban delta — a UNESCO world heritage site — have been breached by the surge whipped up by cyclone Amphan which has inundated several kilometres of the islands.

The sea-level rise in the delta, which is much higher than average global sea-level rise, will contribute to migration from the region.

For around 40 lakh people of the Sundarbans, livelihoods like agriculture, fishing and wildlife tourism are the most predominant, apart from being migrant labourers.

The Sunderbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans mangrove forest covers an area of about 10,000 square km.

The Sundarbans is Bengal’s first line of defence from the fierce storms that periodically arise in the Bay of Bengal. However, the people of this region pay a heavy price for this. Many days after Amphan hit, the Sundarbans is still in a state of shock. Livelihoods have been destroyed, houses torn down, power systems dislocated and mobile networks blacked out. Most troublingly, the intensity of the storm has meant salt water from the sea has backed up into farmlands in the delta, rendering them useless for the next few years.

Barely an hour — that is what separated the maximum intensity of Cyclone Amphan and the high tide peak. That is what saved Sundarbans from being completely washed away on May 20.

The devastation is unprecedented, as was the storm — nearly 90 kilometres of embankments have either been breached or severely affected. But the impact could have been even more painful had Amphan overlapped with the high tide crest, like Aila did in 2009.

Cyclone Amphan’s highest windspeed was 185 km per hour compared to Aila’s 120 kmph. Incidentally during Aila, about 990 km out of 3,500 km river embankments was severely damaged in Sundarbans — way more than at present.