However, we currently lack a sufficient understanding of how costal societies build an adaptive capacity in the face of climate change and global warming. Some regions of the world and their ways of life will in years to come be radically transformed if not disappear altogether.
The region around the Bay of Bengal is one such area where residents are vulnerable to extreme weather.
BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Tagore and the Bengali Sensibility, A Transformative Time
The most conservative projection reported in the International Panel for Climate Change Fourth Assessment is estimated at 40cm by the end of the twenty first century. More significantly however, the rise in sea levels in the northern Bay of Bengal, combined with warm sea surface temperatures, will result in more severe storms and cyclone activity with accompanying high water extremes, surges and salt intrusion.
In the Bay of Bengal the magnitude of the consequences of this change is beyond comprehension. Nearly million people will be affected; 10 percent of the fertile agricultural land could be destroyed; farming and fishing livelihood could be completely compromised; and the fragile Sundarbans mangrove forest, with their unique biodiversity, are in danger of disappearing altogether. A rising sea level and reduced production in agriculture pose the biggest threats.
Kolkata and Dhaka, whose greater urban areas are home to over 20 million people and rising, face the greatest risk of flood-related damage over the next century.
Low-lying Bangladesh is vulnerable to flooding and cyclones in the Indian Ocean, which scientific literature suggests will grow more intense in coming decades. The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world and is the home of the endangered Bengal tiger. Between and , I undertook several stints of fieldwork in the delta.
Living in the Sundarbans delta is like walking the edge of a knife.
This amphibious landscape is ecologically fragile and exposed to hydro hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, and typhoons. These photos offer a place-based understanding of coastal societies in the Bay of Bengal. The photos also focus on the costal seaboard that connects the rest of Asia across the Indian Ocean trade route.
Bengal was the economic, cultural and educational hub of the British Empire in South Asia.
The liminality of the landscape is marked by vanishing islands that emerge and disappear with geomorphic processes of land formation. In this water-based economy, the riverine communities are socially connected through dispersed village settlements and weekly markets locally known as haat bazaar. The rivers are not just channels of water; they carry a thriving trade, transporting people, goods, and ideas from one part of the delta to another.
In recent decades, the lives of communities in the coastal belt have been conceded by state-driven development projects such as the Rampal thermal power plant proposed jointly by India and Bangladesh.
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The project has triggered several protests across Bangladesh and raised many pressing questions on the environmental sanity of such capitalist and state-driven corporate projects. During my yearlong fieldwork in the region, I took hundreds of photographs of the port depicting the defenseless everyday life of fishing villages who live at the mercy of tropic cyclones and ship breaking mafia who grab community owned land to expand their dangerous business.
Most of the labour recruits come from the stripped fisherman families who have very little education and have limited opportunities for work and livelihood beyond the toxic ship breaking yards. The photographs capture their hopes and aspiration for a better future.
A Pact with Nature
By contrast in the Indian part of the Sundraban delta communities have opened up their village spaces to the influx of domestic tourists and international backpackers after the devastating Aila cyclone of Villagers depend on outsiders who visit the island by working as night guards, cooks, porters and open air theater jatra and pala entertainers.
This unregulated entry of boats from Calcutta to Dhaka has caused oil spills which have polluted the pristine backwaters.
The increase in tourists has created a demand for guesthouses, camping sites, lodges and hotels in the delta, generates litter that have added to the vulnerability of the fragile delta ecology. Besides this, shrimp aquaculture, once a thriving business on the coast, has significantly damaged the mangrove forest. Both in India and Bangladesh, human intervention and changing state policies in favour of neoliberalization and globalization have adversely affected the coastal environment.
The demand for crab from China, particularly during the Chinese New Year, has added a new transnational dimension to the global interconnectedness of the delta and the demand and supply for seafood in the glocalised economy. The growth in crab export has replaced the booming shrimp aquaculture of the s and has become the new hope of marginal farmers who earn small profits from traders and exporters who manage the demand and supply chain of the business.
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