ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cyclone in the Sundarbans

Of Relief Work and Resilience

Following Cyclone Amphan, relief work in the already sensitive and complex Sundarbans delta was complicated by the sudden nationwide lockdown.

Relief in the Sundarbans is complicated. Last winter, we went to a village with blankets for the neediest section of the village. But the villagers demanded that everyone get a blanket. The women were pointing kataris [sharp knives] and shouting at us. We had to cancel our distribution and come back, recounted Rezwana as she was taking stock of the ration stored in her house for relief work. Despite their earlier experience, Rezwana and her friends from Kolkata had decided to go back to the very same village to distribute relief. But this time, she had arranged for police protection along the route. News of the loot of relief vans in the Sundarbans following cyclone Amphan had started circulating already. Amphan had left a trail of destruction across south Bengal, with physical and virtual communication networks in many remote areas disrupted.

The threat of cyclones is not new in the Bengal deltas, spread across West Bengal in India, and Bangladesh. West Bengals southern neighbour Odisha has been a regular recipient of cyclones as well. Well prepared, Odisha managed to keep the damage in check, and saved a large number of people by promptly evacuating them in advance. West Bengal, too, relocated over 5,00,000 people before Amphan. The national lockdown put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 had already been testing the resilience of the Sundarbans communities. Poverty stricken, a significant number of them foraged in the jungle, risking attacks by the royal Bengal tigers, while others went into the crocodile-infested waters to catch fish and shrimp. Many of them had moved to Kolkata for work in the informal sector, while many others had migrated to other states to work as unskilled daily wage labour. Thousands of migrant labour from the Sundarbans were already stranded in different parts of the country because of the lockdown, and now the cyclone had rendered them with no home to return to.

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Published On : 15th Feb, 2024

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