Mousuni Island in West Bengal’s Sundarbans region was severely impacted August 20-21, 2020 by extreme weather. The combined impact of a low pressure, easterly winds and a high tide caused several breaches in surrounding river bunds. The ingress of saline water affected thousands.
The disaster was limited to the coastal area, with the outer world — including the rest of the state — hardly having any idea. The administration’s response was wanting as locals did not receive enough dry food (like puffed rice), let alone any other support, even 36 hours after the disaster.
“We have repeatedly sought relief from the local administration but, so far, received almost nothing,” a local resident said.
State disaster management minister Javed Ahmed Khan promised immediate help when Down to Earth shared the ground reality with him on Friday evening.
“I am asking my department to arrange support for the affected people as quickly as possible,” he said.
The situation may worsen: India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted the formation of another spell of low pressure, and in turn heavy rainfall, and strong wind in coastal areas of South 24 Parganas district from August 23.
Third disaster in quick succession
The latest disaster is the third for the island in the last 10 months. Mousuni, with a population of nearly 30,000, was devastated in May and November last by extremely severe cyclones Amphan and Bulbul respectively.
The landfalls of both were within 20 km from the island — a rarity globally.
Close to a quarter of Mousuni has been flooded with saline water from the surrounding Muriganga and Chinai rivers as well as Bay of Bengal in the last two days, locals said. This has affected agricultural fields as well as fisheries.
Mousuni, along with Ghoramara and Sagar, are among the most vulnerable in the region, climate experts have pointed out. The three adjacent islands underline the high climate risk faced by the risk of western part of Indian Sundarbans.
“Disaster first struck August 20. The rivers were already brimming due to the incessant rain. The high tide coupled with the easterlies led to them breaching embankments in at least six areas. River water also surged over the embankments at some places,” said Subhendu Maity, an official of Mousuni Gram Panchayat.
“Around 3,000 people are severely affected; many mud houses have been damaged,” Maity added. Many have taken shelter at nearby school buildings.
“Many patients affected by the novel coronavirus disease are still there in flood shelters. So, the only options for those affected by the extreme weather were the schools and some private concrete houses,” said Adalat Khan, former Gram Panchayat head.