Cyclone Amphan was one of the most destructive cyclones of all times to be formed in the Bay of Bengal, causing record damages to the state of West Bengal, which is affected the most. The South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, and the state’s capital, Kolkata, came under the Cyclone’s direct hit. At the same time, the districts of East Medinipur, Howrah, Hugli, and Nadia were severely affected as well.
What was the primary source of destruction in Cyclone Amphan? Wind speed of 155-165 kph is enough to uproot thousands of trees with more than a thousand in the capital of West Bengal, Kolkata itself. Hefty rains of 236 mm fell on 20th May in Kolkata, the day it was hit by the Cyclone, which caused water-logging of streets, and destruction of crops.
The most dangerous thing, however, was the storm surge. As the storm hit the land, huge waves and water surges moved across the Sundarbans area’s rivers and brooks. They reached the Sundarbans villages, washing away homes, muddy loose soil, destroying crops, farm animals, and all that the surge could take as it was withdrawing.
The storm surge even caused long-time destruction like depositing salt in the fertile farmlands and destroying the dykes and earthen dams. Sundarbans area is not just the most populated forested area in the World. It is also home to a large population of Royal Bengal Tigers, Sundari, and other mangrove trees. It has the World’s largest active delta region formed by a network of inter-connected rivulets, tidal creeks, islands, islets, muddy saline soil. And for all these, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
However, things have turned around. With time, Sundarbans is slowly standing up on its feet. With assistance from the Government and contribution from the people, Sundarbans have recovered, and life is gradually moving towards normal. The national and state disaster rescue team have so far managed to rescue lakhs of people to safe cyclone shelters. Stranded people in the islands got rescued overnight just before the storm hit the shore. Although it floats the houses away, the Cyclone flooded the lands, still saved lakhs of lives. Yet, the population lost 89 lives in West Bengal following nature’s fury.
Many NGOs scattered around the city have offered help. With the residents’ help, they managed to set up relief camps, tents, constant food and water supply, electricity, road restoration, and reconstruction of houses that collapsed.
Some of the inhabited islands are being occupied again. The breaches in the dams are starting to repair with workers utilizing the full daylight period. With 24×7 surveillance from the State Electricity Board, electric power is restored in all the villages within two months. The PWD repairs the roads, and the village panchayats are looking to restore the villages’ living conditions. The agricultural fields are now contaminated with seawater and may take at least 4-5 years before it becomes suitable for crop sowing. The temporary shelters are now dismantling, the construction of collapsed houses is in full swing, and the fishing harbor jetties have been restoring.
The present scenario is that Sundarbans is standing up on its feet to the World. Tourism has still not been able to hold it’s shaping here due to the present Covid-19 situation. The fallen trees have not been replaced yet, and if returned, it will take years to become fully matured trees. Sundarbans are the lungs of Kolkata, and thus it is essential to protect it and maintain the biodiversity in the area. The buffer zones should not be exact, and reforestation should start where habitations have sprung up illegally. Sundarbans bore the first brunt of Cyclone Amphan and substantially weakened it before it reached Kolkata. Sundarbans itself got destroyed to protect the largest cities and most densely populated areas of eastern India. Hence, we should lend a hand to rebuild Sundarbans to the right habitable conditions for both the man and the wild.
-by Himadri Paul