Rising Tides: Examining Threats to 5 Million Lives in Kolkata's Nearest Delta

A distinct climate hazard is being faced by the Sundarban Gangetic Delta.

5 min read
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The Sundarban Gangetic Delta is located near Kolkata and is home to over 5 million people. This extremely climate-sensitive region faces unprecedented threats from climate change. The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) AR6 (Sixth Assessment Report) sheds light on the magnitude of the challenges and the urgency of the situation.

A distinct climate hazard is being faced by the Sundarban Gangetic Delta. I explore how adaptation and mitigation efforts can prioritise social equity and promote the well-being of vulnerable communities.


Climate Vulnerabilities in Sundarban Gangetic Delta

The Sundarban Gangetic Delta, with its low-lying topography, is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise, according to the AR6 report. Throughout the 21st century, global sea levels are projected to continue rising, putting coastal communities, including those in the Sundarbans, at severe risk. Climate change is amplifying extreme weather events in the region, such as cyclones, storm surges, and heavy rainfall. Due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, the delta faces an elevated risk, with these events potentially increasing in both frequency and intensity over time.

Compounding the challenges, human activities in the delta region and rising sea levels contribute to coastal erosion and land subsidence. These environmental threats directly threaten the livelihoods and homes of millions of people living in the Sundarban Gangetic Delta. One of the most critical ecosystems in the region is the Sundarbans mangrove forest, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, climate change significantly threatens its biodiversity and the communities that depend on its resources. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels can disrupt this unique ecosystem's delicate balance, impacting flora, fauna, and local livelihoods.

With the situation’s urgency evident, immediate action is required to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the Sundarban Gangetic Delta. The need for ambitious emissions reductions and adaptation measures to safeguard the region's communities and invaluable natural resources. Efforts to promote social equity and well-being in the region must be integrated into adaptation and mitigation strategies. Inclusive decision-making, addressing social vulnerabilities, and strengthening social safety nets are essential to prioritise the most vulnerable groups, including women, children, indigenous communities, and those living in poverty.

Furthermore, livelihood diversification and capacity-building programs can empower local communities to reduce their dependence on climate-sensitive activities. Access to timely climate information and appropriate technologies for early warning systems and disaster preparedness can enhance community resilience.

Investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and ecosystem-based approaches, such as mangrove conservation and restoration, can offer natural protection against the impacts of climate change. Additionally, innovative financial mechanisms, like insurance and risk financing, can protect vulnerable communities due to climate-related events.

By embracing these innovative adaptation strategies and taking a collaborative approach that includes knowledge sharing and partnerships among stakeholders, the Sundarban Gangetic Delta has the potential to tackle the challenges posed by climate change effectively. It is imperative to act collectively now to secure this critical delta region's lives, livelihoods, and precious biodiversity for future generations.


Designing climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies with social equity in mind is crucial for creating a just and resilient future. One fundamental aspect of achieving this is inclusive decision-making, where local communities, especially marginalised groups, actively participate in the planning and implementation of climate initiatives.

By incorporating their perspectives, knowledge, and experiences, solutions can be tailored to their unique challenges. Additionally, addressing social vulnerabilities is essential to ensure that the needs of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, indigenous communities, and those living in poverty, are prioritised in adaptation efforts. Strengthening social safety nets is equally important, supporting and protecting those affected by climate change impacts.

Empowering vulnerable communities through livelihood diversification and capacity-building programs helps reduce their dependence on climate-sensitive activities, fostering resilience.

Access to timely and accurate climate information and appropriate technologies is also critical for vulnerable communities, aiding early warning and disaster preparedness. Investing in climate-resilient infrastructure and ecosystem-based approaches offers natural protection against climate hazards. Mobilising financial resources and promoting stakeholder collaboration, including traditional knowledge integration, further strengthens adaptation and mitigation endeavours. By adhering to these principles, climate change initiatives can be truly inclusive, leaving no one behind and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.


Building Resilience: Innovative Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change Challenges

In the face of escalating climate change impacts, innovative adaptation strategies are gaining prominence to protect vulnerable communities and ecosystems. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) emerges as a key approach, emphasising the conservation and restoration of critical ecosystems like mangroves to enhance resilience. By safeguarding these natural buffers, coastal communities can better withstand the escalating threats of rising sea levels and storm surges.

Community-based Early Warning Systems (EWS) are being implemented to strengthen community preparedness, empowering locals with timely and accurate information to respond proactively to impending disasters. Moreover, floating gardens and housing have proven effective in flood-prone regions, offering resilient alternatives that adapt to changing water levels.

Integrated Water Management initiatives are also gaining traction, addressing the challenges of water scarcity and salinity intrusion, both exacerbating delta regions' vulnerabilities. Promoting Climate-Resilient Agriculture is another essential adaptation pillar, as sustainable farming practices enhance agricultural productivity and resilience in the face of shifting climatic conditions.

Lastly, Insurance and Risk Financing mechanisms have emerged as innovative solutions to provide financial protection for vulnerable communities. Index-based insurance and risk pooling can mitigate losses from climate-related events, allowing communities to recover and rebuild. By combining these adaptive measures, communities can confront climate change head-on, fostering sustainable development and ensuring the well-being of present and future generations.


Urgent Climate Action for Sundarban Gangetic Region

The Sundarban Gangetic Delta faces unique climate hazards that demand urgent action. Adaptation and mitigation efforts must prioritise vulnerable communities to promote social equity and well-being. Innovative strategies offer hope for mitigating climate impacts, but tailored and inclusive approaches are essential for sustainable change. By acting together now, we can safeguard the lives, livelihoods, and invaluable natural resources of the Sundarban Gangetic Delta for generations to come.

The situation in the Sundarban Gangetic Delta is urgent. Immediate action is required to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. Delaying action will exacerbate consequences and make protecting vulnerable communities and ecosystems increasingly difficult. The AR6 report stresses the need for ambitious emissions reductions, adaptation measures, and international cooperation to address the climate crisis effectively.

(Dr Anjal Prakash is the Clinical Associate Professor [Research] and Research Director at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business. He contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Climate Change   Sunderbans 

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