The world's first environmental refugees
30th January, 2009
The disappearance of Lohachara beneath the waters of the Bay of Bengal created the world’s first environmental refugees. Dan McDougall reports on other islanders in the Sundarbans delta who have no escape from the rising ocean. Photography by Robin Hammond
His exhausted body a prisoner to the Bay of Bengal’s violent tides, Dependra Das stretches out his bony arms to show his flaky, ravaged skin. He is covered in raw saltwater sores.
His fingers submerged in greasy mounds of soft, black clay for up to six hours a day, the 70-year-old’s life consists of little more than stemming the tide as he frantically shores up the remains of a crude sea dyke surrounding his remote island home in the Sundarbans delta, the world’s largest mangrove forest.
Alongside him, stretched across the beach in long, thin lines, the villagers of Ghorama Island – including the women, elaborately dressed in their purple, orange and green saris – work daily to prop up the same black mud-and-sand fortress.
For the villagers, each day begins as it ends. As dusk falls over the stark, eroded landscape, the distant toll of a temple bell on the Indian mainland floats across the rushing water and they slowly file back to their thatched huts. By dawn the dyke will be breached by the sea once more and their work will have to start again.
Here, amid the vastness of the low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet, Dependra Das is...
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