Cyclone Aila - a grim reminder of climate change

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

KOLKATA - Cyclone Aila, that hit the east coast of India Monday devastating

over 100,000 people in the Sundarbans delta region of crops and lifestock, was a grim consequence of climate change, say experts.

NGOs who work in the area said the main dykes in major islands such as Sagar, Patharpratima, Sandeshkhali I and II, Hingalganj, Kultoli, Mousuni and many small islands in the Gosaba area had been breached, and brackish water had entered farmlands and freshwater ponds during the cyclone Monday, ruining the crops and killing the fish.

The water level in the myriad rivers and creeks that make up the Sundarbans - the world’s largest mangrove forest - was still high, said A. Anurag Danda, coordinator of the Sundarbans programme of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) India.

“The cyclone coincided with the new moon, which is time for especially strong high tides anyway,” Danda told IANS. The water was expected to go down to its usual level in two-three days more.

Danda said that, according to information he had received, on Tuesday afternoon residents were still sheltering in school buildings and were unable to get back home. “In Sandeshkhali food packets have been dropped by helicopter.”

The long-term impact of the cyclone would be huge, according to Danda. “All the work we had done on Mousuni island has been washed away.” Mousuni is one of the southernmost islands in the Sundarbans, facing the Bay of Bengal, and WWF had done a lot of work there to safeguard residents from sea levels rising due to global warming.

Most farmers had lost their livestock in Cyclone Aila, said the NGOs. Now the biggest problem was to get enough bleaching powder to the remote islands before the carcasses rotted and created a health risk.

NGOs who work in the Sundarbans and local officials of the UN Development Programme and UN Children’s Fund held an emergency meeting here Tuesday and decided to move into the affected aeas from Wednesday morning, carrying emergency supplies of drinking water, dry food, milk and other relief materials.

The NGO Greenpeace said the destruction caused by Aila was in consonance with the predictions made by scientists, who had warned that storms would become more frequent and more damaging due to climate change.

“India must continue to pressure the industrialised world to make deep and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (which is causing climate change). At the same time, domestically, India must take ambitious action to curtail emissions of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas), by adopting mandatory, ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, and creating fiscal incentives for the same,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said.

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