Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Global Warming Hoax

Let us save the islands of the world heritage zone of the Sunderbans. Let us try to find out the real reasons why some of the islands of this archipelago are eroding away. According to official records, there are 102 islands in the Indian Sunderbans. But of them, at least two have already disappeared (one is rising from the waters again, though) and a dozen-odd are likely to vanish in the next two to three decades if no action is taken immediately. The Sunderbans houses the world's largest mangrove forests which are a natural habitat of Bengal tiger and many other wildlife unique to this area. This region may fall prey to the climate change, but the islands which have vanished are not really global warming victims, say scientists and engineers WHO HAVE WORKED IN THE REGION for years. There has been very little study on the effect of global warming on the Sunderbans. But...

Global Warming Sells
That is why Lohachara, a small island in the western Sunderbans in India, becomes the first inhabited island of the world to go under the rising sea water.
Global warming sells.
That is why journalists across the world forget the basic rules of reporting and use quotes from a single source (without cross-checking with other experts in the field) to support the 'peg' of their story.
In 2006, it was reported by some major newspapers of the world that the rising sea water has claimed two islands of the Sunderbans (Bedford or Supuribhanga and Lohachara), of which one (Lohachara) was inhabited. In the process, at least 10,000 people have become homeless. Several other inhabited (and unhabited) islands of the archipelago are in the process of getting 'permanently inundated', it was claimed.
But is that really true? If it is, then how come the island of Lohachara is rising from the waters again? Yes, it's true. A huge landmass is emerging where the Lohachara and a part of the Bedford had once existed. So, does it mean that the sea level is going down? Not actually. So, let us try to find out the real culprit who has rendered the residents of Lohachara homeless.
In his bid to find out the truth, this blogger talked to several hydraulic engineers, oceanologists and scientists of the Geological Survey of India, who have worked in the worst-affected western Sunderbans area for years. And here is what they said: (The following portion of the post was published in The Times of India on April 3, 2009)

The lack of proper dredging — and not global warming — is behind the obliteration of two islands in the Sunderbans, if experts are to be believed. Around 10,000 people were rendered homeless when the Lohachara island vanished from the map in the late 1990s. There is, however, some good news: this island —the first inhabited one in the world to get obliterated — is emerging again. But a wide spectrum of experts — including former hydraulic engineers with the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) — refute the global warming theory and say that the lackadaisical attitude of port authorities and lack of proper dredging are to be blamed for the vanishing of Lohachara and Bedford (Suparibhanga) islands. Apart from these two, Ghoramara, a third island in the north of Sagar and only around 120 km from Kolkata, is being eroded with every passing day.
“One shouldn’t blame global warming for the islands vanishing. Several geomorphological changes and other problems were behind the fragile islands eroding. While I was in KoPT, we had submitted a Rs 360-crore plan to solve the navigability problems and improve the draught in the estuary. It was a sevenpoint project, which included building a number of underwater guide walls. But only one of the walls could be built before the scheme got shelved for want of funds,” says Tapobrata Sanyal, former chief hydraulic engineer of Kolkata Port Trust. As the project got shelved, dredging of the estuary was neglected.
There are a number of shallow patches or ‘bars’ in the shipping channel to the Kolkata and Haldia docks. Of these, the Balari bar on the north-west of Nayachar substantially influences the river dynamics of the region. Nayachar island, situated almost in the middle of the Hooghly, virtually divides the river into two channels.
Till the early Eighties, the channel between Nayachar and Haldia (Jellingham-Haldia-Jiggerkhali-Balari channel) was navigable up to Kolkata port. But because of reduced flow (thanks to Farakka barrage and irrigation canals upstream), sediments started getting deposited further up stream (including at Balari instead of compensating erosion in the sea-facing islands.
As the riverbed at Balari became more and more shallow, the main downward flow of the river took the Rangafalla channel on the east ern side of Nayachar, there by eroding the islands of Lohachara, Bedford and Ghoramara. According to Sanyal, this could have been avoided had his plan been implemented. Two underwater guide walls (in the north and south of Nayachar), three bank protection walls and a wall to protect Lohachara, Bedford and Ghoramara were supposed to be constructed. But only the northern guide wall could be built before the scheme was grounded. And had the protection wall been built along the western side of the three vulnerable is lands according to the plan Lohachara and Bedford may still have been there.
R K Burman, secretary Haldia Dock Officer’s Forum too, blames the unfinished project for the islands van ishing. “They neither did capital dredging at Balari, nor built the spurs. They only built the northern guide wall. That’s the reason behind the stronger ebb-time flow through the Rangafalla channel, which eroded the islands. This happened due to a lack of will on the part of KoPT and its chairman. Recently, KoPT has taken up a Rs 40-crore scheme to save Ghoramara, but it’s too late.”
When asked about the vanishing islands, KoPT chairman A K Chanda said, “I don’t have the expertise to comment on the subject. I have to talk to our hydraulic engineers.”
Whatever be the views of global warming theorists and the port authorities, the residents of Ghoramara, which is the most threatened island at the moment, squarely blame KoPT for the crisis. Sheikh Ziad Ali (64), former pradhan of Ghoramara, said, “The erosion here started in the early Eighties, when the port trust started building an underwater bundh and diverted the Kolkata-bound shipping route through Rangafalla. The waves created by the ships started eroding the islands.”
Cognizant techie Subrata Jana, who hails from Ghoramara, too, feels that it is because of the unfinished KoPT project that his island is being eroded. “Had it been because of global warming then the whole island would have been submerged,” he says.
Asked about the “inundation” of the islands, local MLA Milan Porua said, “It’s not right to say that the islands are getting inundated because of sea level rise. The reason is natural river dynamics.”
Tuhin Ghosh of Jadavpur University’s department of oceanography said, “It is because of the eastward tilt of the tectonic plate and changes in river dynamics that the islands are washed away. And there has not been any major study to prove that river dynamics did not play a major role behind the vanishing of Lohachara and Bedford.”
R K Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel-winning IPCC, said, “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on Lohachara without being fully apprised of the precise factual circumstances surrounding its disappearance.”