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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Global warming claims first inhabited island

Geocode for Lohachara Char, India
Latitude: 21.9 / Longitude: 88.1058333

For the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas. Environment Editor Geoffrey Lean reports

Published: 24 December 2006 Independent (London)

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.

It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.

Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university's School of Oceanographic Studies, says "it is only a matter of some years" before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta. The area's 400 tigers are also in danger.

Until now the Carteret Islands off Papua New Guinea were expected to be the first populated ones to disappear, in about eight years' time, but Lohachara has beaten them to the dubious distinction.

Human cost of global warming: Rising seas will soon make 70,000 people homeless

Refugees from the vanished Lohachara island and the disappearing Ghoramara island have fled to Sagar, but this island has already lost 7,500 acres of land to the sea. In all, a dozen islands, home to 70,000 people, are in danger of being submerged by the rising seas.

Get a satellite view of where Lohachara was at-

From Wikipedia-

Lohachara Island was an islet on the Sundarban river delta in the Sundarban National Park, located near the Indian state of West Bengal which was permanently flooded in the 1980s.[1]

The islet is one of a number of "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta: in the past two decades, four islands - Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi and Suparibhanga - have sunk into the sea and 6,000 families have been made homeless.[2] Although other islands have disappeared due to various man-made construction projects, Lohachara was the first inhabited island to disappear due to global warming.[3] There are multiple causes[4] of the disappearances of islands in the delta, including sea-level rise, coastal erosion, cyclones(the number has reduced but intensity increased[5]), mangrove destruction and coastal flooding. The loss of land has created thousands of refugees in the area.

Overall population of the Sundarbans has risen 200% to nearly 4.3 million. [2]

From the Calcutta Telegraph
Oct 30th, 2006.-

Vanishing islands Displaced Climate casualties Underlying truth

They saw the shore pushing in closer every day. Yet, Shamila and her mother never thought the sea would completely devour their tiny island of Lohachara in the Sundarbans. And then one day, it did. The family of four was forced to pack its modest belongings and head for Sagar, the largest island in west Sundarbans. In the late 1990s, more such families followed suit.

“There’s nothing any more where our island once was. It’s just a huge stretch of sea where vessels ply,” says Shamila’s father Seikh Abdullah, among the first batch of envirogees (environment refugees) who have now settled in Sagar. Nearly 7,000 of his former island mates are his neighbours again.

The seas are rising across the Sundarbans, the 100-island conglomerate in the Ganges estuarine delta in the Bay of Bengal. One more island in the vicinity — Suparibhanga (also called Bedford) — has sunk. It had no recorded human population, though.

In Calcutta, Jadavpur University’s School of Oceanographic Studies has gathered a number of glaring climate change indicators in the fragile estuarine ecosystem, home to the famous Royal Bengal tiger. Since 1965, the temperature of the group of islands has risen by over one degree. The number of annual cyclones, which wreak havoc in the small islands, has fallen but they are more intense now. This means more coastal flooding, erosion and more saline water moving in on the islands.

“The sea level rise south of Sagar island could go up to 3.5 mm a year over the next few decades because of global climate change. Sagar itself has lost about 30 km of land by now. The rising seas could wash out almost 15 per cent of the existing 9,000-plus square kilometres of the islands,” says Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies.

Mujibullah, who came to Sagar as a teenager and now sustains a family of six on seasonal Hilsa catch, agrees. “Today, I see Sagar’s west end — Boatkhali and Laudhas — gradually being eroded. If Sagar too has a similar problem, we don’t know where to go.” As of now, a friendly Sagar panchayat has given them refuge and livelihood out of empathy, a strong emotion binding islanders across the Sundarbans.


Threatened? (Above) The Royal Bengal Tiger and the Barking Deer

The “vanishing islands”, as Hazra calls them, have rendered around 10,000 people homeless already and threaten to displace about 70,000 more in the next 14 years.

The team first noticed that the islands were vanishing while working on a Government of India funded project in 2001. The government census was still showing a population of 5,000 in Ghorama, one of the fast submerging islands. “But we could not find the island in the satellite images. Official records showed 102 islands in the estuary, but we found only 100. Where had the other two gone,” says Hazra of the basic premise which stoked his team’s curiosity.

The researchers then began mapping each island and established that there were 100 islands only. Their report to the Union government was sent recently as part of the national communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As the islands sink, they estimate that the worst hit will be Sagar, from where nearly 30,000 people will be displaced by 2020. Namkhana will have produced 15,000 envirogees by that time. The other islands — all in the western end of the estuarine delta — that will have been deserted are Ajmalmari (east and west), Dalhousie, Dakshin Surendra Nagar, Moushuni, Lothian, Ghoramara, Dulibhasani, Dhanchi, Bulchery, Bhangaduani and Jambudwip.


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