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| Last Updated:: 10/12/2015

Joint fight for Sunderbans






Paris: India and Bangladesh today used the UN climate change conference here to pitch for joint action to protect the Sunderbans, a natural heritage site shared by the two nations and considered highly vulnerable to the impact of global warming.


This is the first time the two countries have joined to discuss the survival of the region, home to 13 million people and the Royal Bengal Tiger, among other species of wildlife. Scientists believe the occupants of the region are among populations under imminent threat from the impacts of climate change.


India and Bangladesh's environment ministers and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee are expected to meet within two months to discuss the Sunderbans.


"The Sunderbans may be in two countries but tigers know no boundary. This hotspot has to be preserved together," said India's environment minister Prakash Javadekar.


"We have already agreed to have a joint management plan to preserve the Sundarbans. In two months, we will sit along with my colleague, the chief minister of Bengal, to work out the joint management plan."


The India pavilion at the climate change conference hosted a meeting on the Sunderbans, supported by a consortium of civil society organisations from India and Bangladesh.


"The joint plan to protect the Sunderbans from climate change is an important initiative," said Anwar Hossain Manju, the Bangladesh environment minister.


"We will try to work out how the climate vulnerability of the Sundarbans can be raised on a global platform jointly and much more strongly," Manju told The Telegraph on the sidelines of the meeting.


The civil society organisations have also raised the issue of Sundarbans' climate vulnerability in Paris in the context to the issue of loss and damage.


"The Sundarbans, with 13 million people spread across India and Bangladesh, is one of the worst sufferers of changing climate even though its occupants virtually contribute nothing to global warming," said Harjeet Singh, a member of a civil society organisation at the meeting.


"We have received a resolution from civil society groups in Bengal, Sabuj Mancha, which clearly spells out the climate vulnerability of the people in the Sundarbans," Singh said.


About two-thirds of the Sunderbans is in Bangladesh, the rest in Bengal. A sea level rise at a rate more than twice the global average, and increasing frequency of high intensity storms are threatening the occupants of this island region.


The population's vulnerability is considered extreme as most residents are poor - an estimated 44 per cent of the Sunderbans population lives below the poverty line.


"The idea of a plan is a very welcome development. The Sunderbans' climate change-related vulnerability has not come into adequate focus so far because the region is split between India and Bangladesh and the countries were not raising the issue together," said Anurag Danda of WWF India, a Sunderbans expert.


"It's a win-win situation for both countries, as apart from financial support, a joint push for the Sunderbans is also likely to create a high degree of climate adaptation strategies for the region, potentially the biggest among island regions," said another Sundarbans analyst.


Analysts point out that though the two countries have signed a number of protocols to conserve the Sunderbans, they mostly remain on paper. A recent document from the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change on the vulnerability of island regions to changing climate has not included the Sunderbans even though its vulnerability is considered higher than many other island areas