The Sundarbans

A friend in need, a timeless shield

Nusrat Jahan Pritom

30 May, 2020 12:00 AM printer

A friend in need, a timeless shield

Sundarbans has proven time and again that not only is she beautiful but immensely powerful.  Beauty of the largest mangrove forest in the world is admired far and wide but since last week, people have begun discussing about its power after the forest has significantly weakened Amphan, one of the most fiercest cyclones of the past two decades. But this is not the first time that Sundarban has saved us from a cyclone. In fact, it had played a significant role in weakening, if not stopping completely, the other cyclones that have occurred in this region namely Cyclone Sidr,  Cyclona Aila, etc.  However, thousands of trees and wildlife in the region had faced the wrath.

On May 20, Tuesday, Bay of Bengal’s fiercest storm Amphan roared into West Bengal around 2.30pm on Wednesday, between Digha in the state and Hatiya Islands in Bangladesh. It had caused damage and devastation in the West Bengal. The maximum wind speed recorded at Kolkata was 130kmph at 6.55 pm. However, by the time it had entered Bangladesh, the cyclone had lowered its rage significantly. But the damage was borne by Sundarban as many spots of the forest looked like a bulldozer had passed after the storm, according to eyewitnesses. Experts stress on the conservation of Sundarban that has saved us time and again from multiple dangers.

The Bay of Bengal had hosted 26 of the 35 deadliest tropical cyclones recorded in this part of the world making these regions hot spots for cyclones. The surface temperatures of water bodies here are high which makes the condition even worse since these are favourable conditions for the formation of cyclones. For this reason, it will not be wrong to say that many other storms and cyclones can be expected here even in the future. Who might come to the rescue under such trying times? We hope it is Sundarban. However, Sundarban itself needs to be rescued too.

According to a report by UNESCO, Cyclone Sidr had damaged 40% of Sundarban back in 2007. Natural disasters are not the only problem the mangrove forest faces. Poachers and smugglers regularly raid here and steal expensive trees, hunt wild animals for their meat and skin and also conduct many other illegal activities. Sundarban is home to 453 faunal wildlife, including 290 bird, 120 fish, 42 mammal, 35 reptile and eight amphibian species. Many animals have already become extinct the last two centuries. Royal Bengal Tiger, whose name is intricately entangled to that of Sundarban is also endangered.

A number of manmade hazards had further damaged Sundarban in the past. On 9 December 2014 an oil-tanker named Southern Star VII carrying 358,000 litres of furnace oil was sunk in the Sela river of Sundarbans after it had been hit by a cargo vessel. The oil spread over 350 km2 (140 sq mi) area after the clash, as of 17 December.. The slick spread to a second river and a network of canals in the Sundarbans and blackened the shoreline. The event was very threatening to trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins

This year, Cyclone Amphan damaged 11,749 different species of trees worth Tk 2,57,965. Of those, 1,027 are Gewa (E. Agallocha), 105 are Bain (Avicennia Alba), 38 are Keora (Sonneratia Apetala) and 10,579 are Goran (Ceriops Decandra). Besides, 15 offices of the forest department worth Tk 27 lakh 35 thousand, 2,450 feet of roads, 2 jetties, a pontoon gangway, 5 watercrafts, and 2 generators were damaged.

Sundarban is important not only as a shield against cyclones but for national economy. It also plays an important role in the economy of Southwestern region of Bangladesh.  The forest provides raw materials for wood-based industries. It is a great spot which attracts tourists from all over the world. In addition to traditional forest produce like timber, fuelwood, pulpwood etc., large-scale harvest of non-wood forest products such as thatching materials, honey, beeswax, fish, crustacean and mollusc resources of the forest takes place regularly. The vegetated tidal lands of the Sundarbans function as an essential habitat, produces nutrients and purifies water. The forest also traps nutrient and sediment, acts as a shore stabiliser and energy storage unit.

It is high time that proper conservation of the forest is done. We need to save Sundarban and its wildlife as this is the only way it can save us from future disasters.