Photographer: Avijit Ghosh
Title: The Land of Conflict
Location: Sundarbans, West Bengal, India
Period: 05/2020 - 11/2021
Category: Environment

Sundarbans is not only the largest mangrove and a UNESCO world heritage site but also one of the largest mangrove reserves for the endangered Bengal Tiger. Spreading over 10,200 sq km, the delta of mangrove forests, spread over India and Bangladesh. Many islands of Sundarbans lying in India, has become uninhabited because of the constant impact of climate change. The sea level has risen by an average of 3 centimetres every year over the past two decades, leading to one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world. In the last decade, a steady rise in sea surface temperature has also lead to the intensification of severe cyclones. In 2020 and 2021 two consecutive severe cyclones ‘Amphan’ and ‘Yaas’ have devastated Sundarbans and the islanders completely.

The mud embankments, which are supposed to guard high tidal waters from entering villages, have proven to be futile. As a result, the saline flood water destroys agricultural lands. The inhabitants have to either migrate or depend on jungle livelihoods like honey collection, fishing and crab hunting. On the other side, the high saline water destroying mangroves rub out the main resource for animals like deer on which the Bengal tiger is heavily dependent, which in turn leads to tigers entering villages as humans are easy prey.

Due to constant floods, the tigers in Sundarbans have developed a unique skill of swimming which helps them to cross rivers to penetrate villages. This human-animal conflict has led to 21 official and reported deaths taking 2020 into account and in 2021 local reports suggests, it's more than 50. The government gives monetary compensation only in cases where people did not venture into no-entry zones. Very little has been discussed regarding the link between Climate change and Human-Tiger conflict in this region.

Sundarbans a 10 200 sq km delta of Mangrove Forest is one of the largest mangroves in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site This biosphere is also home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger

Sundarbans delta is one of the most vulnerable places to climate change The sea level has risen by an average of 3 centimeters a year over the past two decades in the Sundarbans In the past three years the Sunderbans which is home to close to five million people has been witnessed four tropical cyclones

Momin Gazi sits inside his shattered house after the cyclone Yaas on 28th May destroyed it completely in Mousuni island Sundarbans According to government data 300 000 houses were damaged in West Bengal due to the cyclone Yaas in 2021

A number of villagers are seen entering a cyclone shelter as water has flooded the all-agriculture lands houses due to the breach in the embankment on Vidyadhari river at Mohanpur Sundarbans in the aftermath of cyclone Amphan on 25th May 2020

S K Rabiul aged 30 is an inhabitant of Mousuni Island He has migrated to work in Kerala now a southern state of India He says it is impossible to live here and survive with family We have no work here What can we do The salinity of water destroyed everything Nothing is possible here Even the government has accepted its failure Nothing will ever change here The Sundarbans delta is now witnessing the largest climate migration in South Asia

Inhabitants of Sundarbans are seen fishing on a riverside of the jungle Inhabitants of these areas who can not migrate are only left with the option of forest livelihood This is what makes them vulnerable to tiger attacks Bengal tigers in Sundarbans have also been battling the high tide which has made them skilled swimmers These endangered Bengal tigers who are extremely dangerous for their human hunting nature find the fishermen and women easy prey

Lakhi Naskar aged 39 a fisherman of Kaikhali Sundarbans has been attacked by a tiger on 18 11 2021 while he was hunting for crabs with two of his friends in a jungle in Sundarbans The tiger suddenly attacked from behind His friends chased the tiger and rescued him This photograph shows him being transferred to a city hospital after first aid from the rural hospital He died on the road before he could reach the city hospital

Sikha Sardar daughter in law of Prafulla Sardar a resident of Gopalganj Gram Panchayat shows a photo of Prafulla Sardar who has died by the attack of a tiger while hunting crabs in the jungle on July 19 2021 He had the experience of going into the jungle for more than 20 years

Shankar Shee who is a resident of Bhubaneshwari village Sundarbans survived a tiger attack on 3rd April 2021 He is seen under treatment in a local hospital on 12th April 2021 Taking 2020 into account official data suggest 21 people have died but according to villagers the figure is more than that

Here the x-ray shows the broken shoulder of Sankar Shee that was caused by a tiger attack

Vinoda Mondal aged 26 is a resident of Kultali Sundarban who lost her husband just after 2 years of marriage Her daughter was just 11 months old then Her husband Jaydeb Mondal was attacked by a tiger and died when he was fishing inside the deep jungle-side river She said she was not even able to see the body as it was mutilated

Hemanta Mondal aged 78 a resident of K plot an Island in Sundarbans shows where the tiger jabbed his teeth when he was fishing near the riverside in the jungle It was his fellow fishermen who luckily saved his life After that he has never returned to the jungle