Experts raise alarm for urgent action for preserving Deltaic Ecosystem at maiden International Delta Summit held in Kolkata’

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Tiger in the Forest Of Sunderban
Tiger in the Forest Of Sunderban
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Experts raise alarm for urgent action for preserving Deltaic Ecosystem at maiden International Delta Summit held in Kolkata’

18th June, Kolkata: 

Bringing focus to the vulnerable deltas of Sundarbans and the climate impacts it faces, Jadavpur University, Centre for River Affairs (CRA) of South Asian Institute for Advanced Research & Development (SAIARD) hosted the first-ever International Delta Summit in Kolkata on June 16 and 17. Over two days, several dignitaries spoke about the delicate ecosystem and the need to ramp up climate action to protect it.

Speaking at the inaugural session, Prabhat Mishra secretary of, department of Agriculture, GoWB raised concern on how the salinity levels in the Sundarbans had been steadily increasing due to heavy siltation, obstructing the flow of fresh water and disrupting the salinity balance. “Our department has been working on an ingenious project of excavating 654 km of creeks – which has allowed an influx of fresh water, reducing salinity and transforming farming practices. The excavation of creeks also allowed an influx of fresh water, leading to the replacement of toxic ‘vannamei shrimp’ cultivation with freshwater prawns. This transformation has resulted in the rejuvenation of the Sundarbans, promoting biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods, irrigation, and waterways,” he said.

Also, speaking during the occasion, principal secretary, department of disaster management, Dushwant Nariyala said, “Protection of the waterway is the protection of the lifeline. Our department is actively involved in disaster mitigation efforts since prevention is better than cure as for the past few years the efforts have shifted towards mitigation and adaptation. Including making shelter homes, and training civil defense volunteers who work tirelessly for rescue relief towards saving lives.  NDMA has developed a policy on soil erosion. This summit is important for bridging the gap between research and policymakers.”

On Friday, SAIARD launched the Global Delta Catalogue (will hyperlink) of 32 Deltas from across the world that contains information about the geography, physiography, agricultural practice, and population of the Deltas. The catalog also highlights Deltas as a means of livelihood, a hub of biodiversity, and water resources, and a shield of disaster risk reduction.  Reports such as the IPCC have warned about the risk low-lying areas will increasingly face as sea levels rise and its impact on food security, livelihoods, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Delta world over continues to be at the forefront of this risk and requires collaboration across countries to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Just back from the Bonn Intersessional 2023, Dr. Saleemul Haq, director, ICCCAD, said, “Despite the global system being dysfunctional both governments of India and Bangladesh need to be joining forces as much as possible in the delta region. This must take climate action from the existing people-to-people cooperation and collaboration and strengthen it at the local, regional, and national levels. I see opportunity lies on the ground by forming a collaborative group on research and action, with more academic collaboration on the issue of loss and damage in climate change adaptation and collaboration on developing more locally lead community adaptation program”. Dr. Haq delivered the keynote address during the discussion on sustainable climate finance options for the Deltas. He stressed the need to work together

Echoing his sentiments, Harjeet Singh from Climate Action Network International, said G77 countries have to stay and act together on the vulnerability issue, particularly regions around the Delta need to work together to make the fund available fit for purpose. We must share resources with each other, including knowledge exchange for the Sundarban.”

A vast population worldwide lives on deltas, many in sprawling megacities such as Kolkata, Shanghai, Dhaka, and Bangkok. Conservative estimates value major deltas worldwide at trillions of dollars in economic revenue and ecosystem services. The rich delta ecosystem and its services — storm protection, nutrient and pollution removal, and carbon storage — are being destroyed. Increased climate migrants threaten fisheries and cultural heritage.

Prof. Tuhin Ghosh Director, School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University said, “We can expect more heatwaves and more water logging, the IPCC report has been repeatedly warning us of the need for more careful action and more awareness. The summit is an effort in that direction.”

Deltas worldwide share the same fate, be it the eroding Indus Valley Delta plain of Pakistan or China’s retreating yellow river Delta. Rising sea levels compounded with the sediment crisis will create havoc by the turn of the century, increasing the risk of flooding / drowning in deltas at an unprecedented scale.

Deltas are economic activity centers, with ports, industries, and agriculture driving growth and development. They are hubs of innovation, cultural exchange, and scientific exploration. By harnessing delta communities’ inherent resilience and adaptive capacity, we can forge a path towards sustainable and inclusive development.” said Dr. Biswajit RoyChowdhury, Chairman, SAIARD. “This summit represents a significant milestone in our collective efforts to address the pressing challenges and opportunities faced by delta regions across the globe,” he added.

About 120 million people live on the Ganges Delta under the threat of repeated catastrophic floods due to heavy meltwater runoff from the Himalayas and intense rainfall during the monsoon season.

We have already established that these events are climate change lead events. There is strong evidence that the frequency and severity of cyclones will be increasing many folds and this will be the new normal. Therefore the need is to act swiftly on inclusive decision-making with more participation of local people who are affected, increasing their social safety net to help mitigate migration and enable the building local economy, and also work on the effectiveness of the insurance by identifying and addressing the social vulnerability issues.” said Dr. Anjal Prakash, coordinating lead author, IPCC, and professor, Indian School of Business.

Delta cities like Kolkata are among the top 10 worldwide that face the most dangerous multi-hazard risks and are most vulnerable to disaster-related mortality. Higher temperatures are likely to influence the riverine system when glaciers melt severely.

Dr. Anamitra Anurag Danda, Director of, the Sundarbans Programme, WWF India, said, We are still responding to problems that are already here. The city has expanded over the years and we are unable to anticipate the challenges. We need to see the city beyond its geographical boundaries and use science to prepare better for the problem. We need to create our institutions, build capacity to solve our own problems”

The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2021 suggests that the annual adaptation cost in developing countries could be between $155 billion and $330 billion by 2030. In COP27 last year, countries formally recognized the need for finance to address the loss and damage associated with climate change and agreed to establish a fund for ‘Loss and Damage’.

However, given the existing ambiguity on international global funds, the time has come for India to look into innovative financial mechanisms that can raise capital, particularly to address the issue of vulnerable regions like the Indo- Gangetic Delta.

Manoj Yadav, senior advisor, GiZ said, We must set the right expectation on what we can and what we cannot expect from the insurance sector, given the high-risk low probability of events. In 2020 more than  $70 billion of losses were experienced by India and the majority of these losses were not insured. And, that’s a global story.” 

While citing the example of West Bengal, where the state has already started its insurance program in 2019 in collaboration with ISRO, which is a major step forward on how tech can be used for loss assessment and how compensation processes could be fast-tracked, he said, “There is a great need for tech-based solutions when it comes to losing assessment that is lacking in accuracy, reliability, and transparency. There is also a need for more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and capacity building.”

Prof Runa Sarkar, IIM Calcutta said, Today we are reflecting on the terrifically challenging situation that the Delta region faces with respect to climate change and with our very poor adaptation capabilities. The good thing however is today we have RBI being really serious with the idea of climate finance from the point of view of the risk it poses on India’s climate finance system.”

Speaking on the source of money for adaptation she highlighted that money for mitigation will come given the private returns it has in the end however with adaptation being a public good and long-term process there are less chances of private investment. “Given that 60 percent of adaptation finance is loan based which requires countries to pay for interest, increasing their debt burden, it is also unlikely an option leaving us only to depend on philanthropic, donation, and grant money for adaptation. We are still hopeful about the carbon market but arriving at the right kind of financial mechanism would require a lot of work in the future.”

Speaking about the role of the Indian Meteorological Department’s role in managing the deltaic regions, Dr. Sanjib Bandypadhyay from India Meteorological Department said, The IMD has been tirelessly working towards providing essential data for department and masses for planning purposes as well enabling early warning system using various layers of forecasting methods He further added

The summit was a first when the future of a fragile and delicate ecosystem was being discussed, with several renowned international experts, scientists, and senior bureaucrats stressing the need for urgent action to save the fragile ecosystem. Debashis Sen, IAS, CMD, HIDCO, Govt of West Bengal, said, “Lot of islands or natural landscapes have just vanished due to the unscientific human encroachments, government policies, and its fallacies. Sustainable Delta Management Plan and its proper implementations are required on an urgent basis to restore and rejuvenate its natural conditions.”

On day two, Dr. Balamurugan, IFS and CEO of the Department of Environment, also delivered a memorial lecture on Dr. Dhrubajyoti Ghosh (Wetland Man of India). “Dr. Dhurbajyoti Ghosh has made such a difference to the state’s wetlands. What we do to protect the wetlands is what we need to think about because if we don’t, we are going to face climate impacts like heat island effects, flooding, more cyclones, etc,” he said.

Various dignitaries from different embassies joined the two-day-long summit, including  Ms. Melinda Pavek, H.E. Hon’ble US Consulate General, Kolkata, Mr. Nick Low, H.E. Hon’ble British Deputy High Commissioner, Kolkata, Mr. A. Elias, H.E. Hon’ble Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner, MR. RK Jaiswal Hon’ble Consulate General of Maldives and Ms Carolina Saito, head of the science, technology, and environment section at the embassy of Brazil – who had joined the event virtually.

About Post Author

Editor Desk

Antara Tripathy M.Sc., B.Ed. by qualification and bring 15 years of media reporting experience.. Coverred many illustarted events like, G20, ICC,MCCI,British High Commission, Bangladesh etc. She took over from the founder Editor of IBG NEWS Suman Munshi (15/Mar/2012- 09/Aug/2018 and October 2020 to 13 June 2023).
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