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Cablegate: Climate Change Here and Now for Sunderbans: Ngo's Adaptation

VZCZCXRO3980
RR RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHNEH
DE RUEHCI #0335/01 3571200
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 231200Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL KOLKATA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2519
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2421
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 1023
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 1026
RUEHNEH/AMCONSUL HYDERABAD 0089
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0645
RUEAEPA/EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDC/NOAA WASHDC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 3148

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KOLKATA 000335

SIPDIS

STATE FOR OES/PCI, OES/EGC, SCA/INSB, EEB/ESC/IEC AND EEB/TPP/BTA
STATE FOR SECC TODD STERN
DEPT OF ENERGY FOR TCUTLER, CGILLESPIE, MGINSBERG
TREASURY FOR DAS PIZER AND OFFICE OF SOUTH ASIA MNUGENT
USDOC FOR ITA/MAC/OSA/LDROKER/ASTERN/KRUDD
DEPT PASS TO USTR MDELANEY/CLILIENFELD/AADLER
TREASURY PASS TO FRB SAN FRANCISCO/TERESA CURRAN
USDA PASS FAS/OCRA/RADLER/BEAN/FERUS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ENRG ECON TSPL KSCA KGHG IN BG
SUBJECT: CLIMATE CHANGE HERE AND NOW FOR SUNDERBANS: NGO'S ADAPTATION
ACTIVITIES SHOW PROMISE

REF: KOLKATA 255

1. (U) Summary: The famed Sunderbans, a deltaic region in
the Bay of Bengal with more than one hundred islands and four
million people, is one of India's most vulnerable areas to
rising sea levels and extreme climatic events. On one of the
islands, Mousuni, public and private actors have focused on
adaptive agriculture, alternative livelihoods, renewable energy
and embankment construction as part of their adaptation
strategies. However, according to the NGO World Wildlife Fund
(WWF) India in the long-term the most effective adaptation
strategy for the island is to "educate and migrate" the growing
population off of the vulnerable and eroding island. ConGen and
EconFSN visited Mousuni Island from November 4-5 to see
first-hand the impacts of climate change and speak with
potential "climate refugees."

India and Bangladesh's Sunderbans Vulnerable to Rising Sea Levels

2. (U) The Sunderbans is a UN World Heritage site in the
Bay of Bengal boasting a unique coastal zone ecology and wide
range of flora and fauna, including the famed Bengal tiger.
Approximately four million people reside on more than one
hundred islands in the Indian Sunderbans, approximately half of
which are inhabited. Sunderbans' population density of 878
persons per square kilometer is more than twice the Indian
average. Agriculture, aquaculture, apiculture and tourism are
the economic lifelines for the region. In addition to its
natural beauty, the Sunderbans is also known for its extreme
vulnerability to rising sea levels (Reftel). According to Dr.
Sugata Hazra with the School of Oceanographic Studies at
Jadavpur University in Kolkata, each year the seas rise an
average of 3.14 mm in the Sunderbans. He predicts that more
than 70,000 Sunderban residents will become climate refugees by
2020 due to coastal erosion and flooding.

WWF India Focuses on Adaptation Efforts on Mousuni Island

3. (U) WWF has chosen Mousuni Island, located in the
southwestern most part of the Sunderbans directly on the Bay of
Bengal, as the focus of its adaptation efforts. Coastal erosion
correlated with sea level rise is particularly severe on this
island. Twenty thousand people live on the 24 square kilometers
and rely on agriculture, primarily rice, for subsistence and as
a source of supplementary income. In February 2009 WWF
established a climate adaptation center to formulate and pilot
adaptive strategies for local communities to cope with climate
variability and vulnerabilities due to sea level rise and
periodic flooding. As an adaptive measure it successfully
introduced salt-tolerant rice paddy seed that produces a higher
yield than the more commonly used paddy variety, without the use
of chemical fertilizers. It explored alternative livelihoods
such as aquaculture by introducing salt-tolerant fish in
brackish water ponds. To improve health and sanitation it
piloted demonstration water filtration projects using sand and
gravel filtration to make pond water potable.

State Government Pilots Renewable Energy: Solar, Biomass and Wind

4. (U) On the island, the West Bengal state government has
focused on renewable off-grid solutions for power given the

KOLKATA 00000335 002 OF 002


infeasibility of conventional grid electricity for the remote
Sunderbans islands. It built two solar photovoltaic power
plants (110 kW and 55 kW) to serve 5,000 households. For six
hours every evening users can light efficient CFL bulbs and
power other electrical devices, such as a cell phone charger or
television, to study or connect with the outside world. A
substantial number of households have also bought stand alone
solar photovoltaic home lighting systems at government
subsidized prices. Elsewhere in the Sunderbans, WBREDA operates
a 500 kW biomass power plant on Gosaba Island, the region's
largest island and commercial center, and a 2 MW wind farm on
Bakkhali Island neighboring Mousuni. Unfortunately, given the
poor wind conditions, the wind farm is idle from October to
March and the plant load factor is only 17 percent.

Embankments Ineffective in Stopping the Seas and Protecting Land

5. (U) For a number of years the state government has built mud
embankments on the island's sea-facing side to reduce erosion
and prevent flooding. However, as tidal surges and cyclonic
storms have become more intense over the years, these mud
embankments provide feeble protection to the island community
and often collapse. Along some coast lines, the government
tried to construct concrete embankments but these have not been
effective due to poor construction and design. Dr. Anurag
Danda, WWF India's Sunderbans program manager, believes that the
erosion will continue and the island will not be able to sustain
its growing population. Education and vocational training is
essential to wean the population away from agriculture.
According to him, the most effective long-term adaptation
strategy for the island is to "educate and migrate" the growing
population off of the vulnerable and eroding island.

Comment

6. (U) As world leaders gathered in Copenhagen, thousands of
miles away, on the island of Mousuni, residents complained about
their eroding island and the salted soil. An NGO has piloted
adaptive strategies in the hope that the state government will
focus its resources and attention on the plight of these
potential future "climate refugees". While the state government
has up until now focused primarily on protecting forest and
fauna in the Sunderbans delta, in the future, it may need to
think less about short-term embankments, and more about the
people and livelihoods that they are supposed to protect.
PAYNE

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