Protecting the mangroves in Sunderbans by empowering local youth

Kehkashan Basu
Published: 19 July 2021
Last edited: 19 July 2021
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Summary

The Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest spanning territory in Eastern India and Bangladesh. Human encroachment and pollution have caused extensive degradation of these mangrove ecosystems, leaving the coastal communities exposed to nature’s fury. Our project engages the local communities, in Bangladesh as well as in India, by educating and empowering their youth to become stewards who protect their fragile environment through a change in lifestyles. They conduct cleanups, remove litter and plastic, teach households to segregate waste and stop plastic usage. As a community they replant and regenerate mangroves on the islets which have become degraded. The project is building a grassroots bottom up campaign wherein the local community, led by young people, has taken the lead.

Classifications

Region
Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Local
Ecosystem
Mangrove
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Theme
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Erosion prevention
Gender mainstreaming
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Local actors
Marine litter
Pollution
Restoration
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Waste management
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Challenges
Floods
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Salinization
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Erosion
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of infrastructure
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030

Location

Bally, Gosaba, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India | India
Shyamnagar, Khulna, Bangladesh
Sunderban Tiger Camp, Gosaba, West Bengal, India
Mongla, Khulna, Bangladesh

Challenges

The rural communities who live in the Sunderbans are economically marginalised. There is a lack of education infrastructure and they had no knowledge about conservation and the damage their lifestyle practices was causing to their mangrove forest habitat. Rampant use of plastics, littering, and deforestation were all combining to deplete the mangroves leaving the residents exposed to sea storms. Two of these storms, Cyclone Aila and Amfan wreaked immense damage amongst these areas. The destruction would have been less had the original mangrove barrier been present.

Beneficiaries

Our work over the last 4 years has engaged over 9000 young people in 10 villages in the forests of Sunderbans, in both Bangladesh and India. In these villages, there is no plastic trash anymore.

How do the building blocks interact?

Through community partnerships and the use of innovative educational tools, we were successful in bringing about biodiversity consciousness, supplement their traditional practices with modern science and remove harmful consumption practices that were root causes for the degradation of the mangroves.

Impacts

Our work over the last 4 years has engaged over 9000 young people in 10 villages in the forests of Sunderbans, in both Bangladesh and India. In these villages, there is no plastic trash anymore. Over 6000 mangroves have been replanted in this period, across three barren island sites. Through a continuous training and conservation education, the residents of these villages have learnt to live symbiotically with the mangroves rainforests.

Story

Kehkashan Basu

I still remember our first journey into the Sunderbans, at the start of our project. From the capital Dhaka it took us almost a day – first by car, then by boat winding through the narrow rivulets that got narrower until we reached one of the villages. From there we walked or hitched a ride on a bullock cart, to move between villages. The region is so remote that it is largely cut off from development and that, we found, to be one of main reasons for its state of degradation. The local population is literally fending for itself. What surprised us the most is that even though they were cut off from the main cities, the mangroves and rivulets were choking on all kinds of plastic. The tide had washed much of these plastics, of different hues and shapes, from the cities into these mangroves, choking and killing them. This was the first activity that we embarked upon – educating the youth on the irreversible damage caused by the plastics and thereafter organising regular, scheduled cleanups that are continuing even today. Until we stop this at the source, in the cities, the mangroves and other riverine and marine ecosystems will continue to, sadly, bear the consequences.

 

During the first phase of our project, we focussed on a village that had been completely destroyed by Cyclone Aila. The village residents had lost all their belongings and the only clothes they had was what they were wearing. We organised a relief campaign for this village providing them with clothes , sanitary products for the women as well as food rations. It was a very moving moment for us and helped to built trust with the local population. This enabled us to obtain their full support to deliver our education programs to their children and turned the tide in our conservation efforts.

 

Building on this trust, we instituted our “ambassador” program where a group of youth from each village was trained to go door to door, to explain the benefits of living in harmony with their mangrove ecosystem. Our program specifically encourages girls to take a leadership role, thereby combining gender equality with biodiversity conservation. Change doesn’t take place overnight, but we are extremely encouraged by the fact that the wheels that we set in motion 4 years ago are bearing results, not just in regenerating the mangroves but in building a more inclusive and progressive society.

Contributed by

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Kehkashan Basu Green Hope Foundation