With the combined power of three hurricanes and believed to be West Bengal’s fiercest cyclone in decades, Amphan’s rage has left an irreparable damage on the ecological fragile Sundarbans region and its people in South and North 24-Parganas.
Amphan was unlike cyclones 'Aila' and 'Bulbul' which had claimed more than 300 lives in Bengal and Bangladesh on May 2009 and November 2019, respectively.
The cyclone, in which 72 people have so far lost their lives, barrelled through the coastal districts of North and South 24 Parganas of Bengal and Odisha at winds speeds of up to 190 kmph and heavy rains.
Mud embankments in the Sundarban delta, a UNESCO site, were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometres of the Island. With sea water entering agricultural land, officials now fear more 2 lakh farmers could be severely affected. The agrarian economy of Sundarbans is mainly based on rice-based farming on fallow land throughout the year.
Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD) director Dipankar Roy said the total length of the river shore in the Sundarbans is nearly 3,500km with a population of 45 lakh.
“One can imagine the kind of destruction the people of the region suffered on Wednesday, besides losing their homes,”
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sundarbans is a biosphere reserve area known for its famous Bengal Royal Tigers. In India, it stretches across southern West Bengal, while a large portion falls in Bangladesh.
On the Indian side, there are a total of 102 Islands in the ecologically fragile region, but human habitation is restricted mainly on 54 Islands (some of the connected with bridges) on the world’s largest mangrove wetland.
The areas worst hit by Cyclone ‘Amphan’ are Ghoramara Dweep and Kalinagar in Kakdwip, Naamkhana, Bakkhali, Frasergunj, Sagar and Pathor Pratima Island in South 24-Parganas. Massive rescue and relief operations are underway in all these areas.
Sundarbans Affairs Minister Manturam Pakhira said nearly 17,800 hectares of agricultural lands may have been damaged because of saline water from seas entering the farms.
“Our estimate suggests that nearly 1,08,000 farmers have been affected. This is going to be a black day in the history of Sundarbans.”
“During Cyclone Bulbul, 1,31,772 houses were fully damaged and 2,155 houses had partial impacts. At that time, the wind speed was around 140 kmph and there was a low tide in the river. But this time, the wind speed was around 175-180 kmph and we fear that the extent of damage would be beyond repair. We cannot do much when a natural calamity of this magnitude strikes, but we are happy that several lives were saved.”
Mass evacuation was undertaken by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and state teams that has ensured minimal loss of lives, officials said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the devastation was massive and she has never witnessed such a a fierce cyclone in her life, adding that she has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the affected districts and provide help to "rebuild those areas from scratch". She further announced Rs 2.5 lakh as compensation for the families of those killed in the cyclone.
Later in the day, it was reported that the prime minister will make an aerial survey of the affected areas on Friday. "He will conduct aerial surveys and take part in review meetings, where aspects of relief and rehabilitation will be discussed," the PMO said in a tweet on Thursday night. Modi said in this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal.
Banerjee said Union Home Minister Amit Shah has also assured of possible central assistance in dealing with the natural calamity.