Life on Sagar Island

"Our house was over there before," says Boddadeb Mondol pointing a few hundred metres away. Not a trace of the building remains on the flat mud slope down towards the sea. "Aila took everything we had, and our soil is no longer good for cultivation," adds Boddadeb outside the family's temporary home built of straw and plastic, cooking dinner on a home made clay oven. The only thing that protects the site of the family’s new house is a two-meter high wall of mud, otherwise it is now as close to sea as the previous one. Most people living in Ganges delta don’t know how climate change might affect them in the future, but they are well aware that something is not right. Longer draught periods, heavier storms, cyclones, tidal surges and rising sea level are severely affecting life for family Mondol and the four million other inhabitants of Indian Sundarbans.

"We were lucky to have relatives with more land on the island, but no one knows if we will still be here after the next monsoon," she says. Family Mondol’s story is just one of many similar in the Bay of Bengal. In 2009 the fierce cyclone Aila smashed into the Sunderbans, killing over 300 people, leaving tens of thousands homeless and ruining farmland with salt water. The tidal waves that followed the cyclone ripped sea defence barriers to pieces in a storm that lasted three days. On Sagar island alone, 25 people were killed.

Walking further North from family Mondol’s temporary residence is a ruin that was once home to another less fortunate family. With no relatives to help out and loan a little money they had no other to go. "They took their few belongings and went to Kolkata. Now nobody knows where or what they live by," says Boddadeb. Maybe they were forced like so many others who have had to flee to join the surging army of foot drawn rickshaw pullers, or to live as beggars on the streets in the already severely overcrowded city.

Earth's warming climate is worsening extreme weather events such as cyclones and storms, and they are becoming more frequent. With unpredictable monsoon seasons the balance of life and ability to survive becomes more marginal. For low-lying areas like Sagar Island sea level rise in combination with the natural redistribution of land from the Delta flow, is already having a major impact. Every day the tide differs with an average of five metres across the Bay of Bengal, more than anywhere else in India. In late July and early September the difference between low and high tide is about 6,9 metres. Not many places on earth are as vulnerable as the densely populated delta between India and Bangladesh.

Family Das return from irrigating their paddy field with a borrowed water pump. Drought and increased salination of groundwater have made it harder for Sagar island's farmers to survive. Half of their crop was destroyed by cyclone Aila in 2009, plunging the family into debt as their crops failed. Now they are praying for the monsoon to arrive in time so they can survive.

Drought in the deltaSunrise over parched landWater, the most precious resourceTending before schoolBetel leafLunchbreakA warningImportant incomeWatching the potatoesEcological riceIsmael KhanGrass for livestockBola MajhiIndustriousSri GabindaGanga Sagar temple