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Lure and repulsion in a complex delta ecosystem: Glimpses from lives in south-west Bangladesh Neela Matin Stockholm Environment Institute October 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Lure and repulsion in a complex delta ecosystem: Glimpses from lives in south-west Bangladesh Neela Matin Stockholm Environment Institute October 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Lure and repulsion in a complex delta ecosystem: Glimpses from lives in south-west Bangladesh Neela Matin Stockholm Environment Institute October 2009

2 Glimpses from Kabir’s life in Gabura, Satkhira. Kabir’s father, an orphan from Faridpur (central Bangladesh) migrated to Khulna (in the south- west) where he got a job in a shrimp firm that began emerging in Bangladesh since the 1970s. There he met his future wife, Sahana, and when they got married they came to live in Sahana’s village in Gabura. Gabura is a union consisting of a number of villages in the Satkhira district that borders the Sundarbans (world’s largest mangrove forests and a World Heritage site). An embankment was built in 1968 to protect the villages from sea tides coming from the Bay of Bengal.

3 Kabir’s father started earning his livelihoods by catching fish and crab that were abundant in the rivers and creeks of the area. He also gathered wood, reeds and honey from the Sundarbans. Shrimp farms also provided employment for about two months in a year. Kabir and his brother Shahid, started going with their father to the rivers and forests from early childhood and learned these trades. When their father grew old, the sons took over.

4 Kabir started life as a labourer working for a boat owner and went for fishing and gathering of forest products. This brought very little income. So he borrowed money to rent a small fishing boat for Tk 500 a month (equivalent to £6) and organised a group of other fishers to work for him in the boat. Usually 4-6 people form a group to get a ‘pass’ from the Forest Department to gather forest products on payment of a ‘royalty’. They go for about 2- 4 weeks and are allowed to take approved forest products, e.g., fish, crab, wood, reeds (Nipah Palm), honey etc. Nipah Palms (Photo: Zakir Hussain) Copyright © Ramsar Convention Bureau, Sundari trees (Heritiera fomes ) that gave the forest its name.

5 By 2009, Kabir was doing well, he was earning enough to support his family However, given the decreasing resources of the Sundarbans and ever increasing number of people depending on its resources, people often find it hard to get enough from the ‘approved’ areas and tend to go deeper into the forests, knowing well that this is risky. The risks come not only from the forest guards but also from the Royal Bengal Tigers (only found in the Sundarbans and is an endangered species) that often kill people if they tread too close to their habitat. In , tigers killed 9 people in Gabura, most of them fishers-cum-gatherers.

6 On 15 April 2009, Kabir went to the Sundarbans with his boat. He anchored in one of the small creeks at night together with a few other boats. Boats are kept together to keep safe from the tigers. On this ominous night, a tiger suddenly jumped into Kabir’s boat and grabbed his uncle Gazi. Kabir and others started a life and death struggle to free him from the tiger. Finally, the tiger left Gazi and fled to the jungle, but on the way back to the village, Gazi died of the injuries. Photo:

7 Further, as the locals observe, climate is changing drastically. The dry season is prolonged. Monsoon is often late and when comes, it is short and intensive, resulting in water logged fields and crop losses. Depressions in the sea are frequent. The tide levels are increasing and there is increasing salinity of water and land. This was a life changing shock for Kabir. He decided not to risk his life in this way any more. However, changing the job was not easy. Employment opportunities have gone down in the area due to large scale conversion of paddy fields to shrimp culture. Shrimp farms employ far less people compared to paddy fields. The devastating ecological consequences of shrimp culture together with these environmental changes have created a situation where Kabir found that he can hardly make a living in Gabura.

8 The final blow came from cyclone Aila that struck the area on 25 May 2009 – worst of its kind in the living memory as the local people says. The embankment burst and the villages went under 10 ft (3m) water sweeping away everything they had. The Sundarbans was inundated under 20ft (6m) of water with massive habitat damage for the animals and plants. People were forced to take shelter on what was left of the embankment. Till now (September 09) the area is under saline water as it is open to the tidal flow of the Bay of Bengal. Given the high level of water submerging Gabura and the adjacent areas, rebuilding of the embankment was yet not possible.

9 Kabir lost all hopes of making a living in Gabura. He decided to leave the village and went to Khulna in search of employment where his parents also lived once. There he started life again - from the scratch. He is now working as a day labourer, often pulling rickshaws or van rickshaws, or whatever is on offer.


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