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Monsoon adds to the plight of Amphan-battered Sunderbans

Southwest monsoon reached West Bengal on Friday morning, but it did not bring any joy to the people of Sunderbans, who are still struggling after Cyclone Amphan battered the region on May 20.

The house of Tarun Das of Bamkimnagar on Sagar Island was destroyed in the cyclone. “I have been able to repair only a portion of my house. This is going to be a very distressing season of rain. Amphan has left us defenceless,” he says.

Almost one km from his house, the embankment along the sea to a distance of two km was damaged. The villagers have repaired the embankment, but it still remains weak, and any high tide can breach it, Mr. Das says. Cyclone Amphan made landfall near Sagar Island on May 20 and travelled north-east and passed through the eastern parts of Kolkata before entering Bangladesh.

According to preliminary estimates, embankments to the distance of 244 km were damaged across the State; those in the Sunderbans sustained a severe damage. Minister for Sunderbans Affairs Manturam Pakhira told The Hindu that about 50% of the breached embankments were repaired. It is difficult to carry on repairs in the Sunderbans during the monsoon.

Khitish Panda of Herambogopalpur village in the Patharpratima block has been unable to complete the repairs to his house. But he is more concerned about what will happen to his betel leaf vines if it rains heavily. The vines were flattened by the cyclone, and he is desperately trying to save them. The State government has estimated that 28.56 lakh houses have been damaged, most of them in Sunderbans, and horticulture crops planted on 2.5 lakh hectares, including betel leaf vines, were destroyed.

Pranabesh Maiti, a Sagar Island resident, runs an organisation called Sunderbans Green Environment Association. He says the monsoon would indeed add to the difficulty of the people rebuilding their homes.

“Relief from various quarters is reaching the remote areas of the Sunderbans and I hope it continues and the monsoon should not hamper relief,” Mr. Maiti says. But he underscores that the rain will reduce the salinity of the soil, thus helping in plantation of mangroves. The mangroves bore the brunt of Amphan, the most severe cyclone to hit the region in the recent past. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has set a target of planting five crore mangroves.

Tuhin Ghosh, Director of the School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, says the monsoon may help in reducing the salinity of ponds and fields if the villagers pump out the water and let the rainwater in. However, this will work only in areas where the embankments have breached.

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