Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s a social issue, experts warn. Poverty, starvation, income inequality, and disease will all be exacerbated by irregular weather patterns and warmer temperatures.
Studies show that every decade in the coming century will be worse than the one before it, and though the issue has gained public attention in recent years, the problem has existed for much longer.
For Dipali, a 48-year-old mother of five in West Bengal, 2009 was the turning point. When Cyclone Aila washed away the only life she had ever known in the Kakdwip subdivision of the Sundarbans, she was forced to move to Kolkata.
The Sundarbans are one of the most vulnerable parts of the world when it comes to climate change. The region, a network of islands in the Bay of Bengal, is rapidly disappearing under water as sea levels rise. At the same time, increasingly devastating storms batter the coastline, flooding villages and farms. This poses a problem for the 4.2 million people living on the Indian side of the border.
Every year, more and more people escape inland as their islands become unliveable. Many make their way to Kolkata’s slums, where they try to find work as wage labourers and housekeepers.
For some families, though, these jobs do not provide enough income. That’s when wives, mothers, and sisters find themselves in Kolkata’s Red Light District. In the year of Cyclone Aila, there was a 20-25% increase in the number of sex workers in Kolkata, according to Dr Smarajit Jana, an epidemiologist who works with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, an organisation that defends sex worker rights. Most of them, like Dipali, came from the Sundarbans.
In an interview for a special report published by Huffington Post India, Dipali recounts how she first resisted selling her body. She tried to get by on wage labour, but as she struggled to feed her children and send them to school, she eventually gave in.