The NGO I am working with targets its efforts on the Sunderbans in West Bengal. The Sunderbans has a population of over 4 million but much of it is mostly free of permanent human habitation. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Sunderban is famous for its scenic beauty, vast openness, thick mangrove forests, tigers, crocodiles - and is considered a favorite tourist. It is located in the southernmost part of West Bengal.
The inhabited islands always bear the risk of breach in earthen embankments and resultant prolonged saltwater water inundation. Cyclones are common – with devastating effects.
Basic infrastructural facilities are lacking in the entire region – no roads, bridges, public transport system, electricity and hospitals in most of the islands. Lack of job opportunity, monocrop cultivation, absence of industries and havoc caused by frequent natural calamities render people homeless – cashless – and extremely vulnerable.
Life in the Sunderbans is tough as these statistics testify:
- population density is a staggering 1437 (Ireland: 60) per square kilometer
- literacy is less than 35%
- the average income of poor families is Euro 19 per MONTH
- 56% of people are landless
- most communities do not have electricity or safe drinking water
- 45% of women and 38% of men are underweight
- at least 28% pregnant women near term weigh less than 45 kg (about 7 stone)
- 66% women are anemic
- there is not a single equipped dental clinic anywhere - toothaches are treated by extraction in 'local clinics'
- 62% girls get married before 18 years age; of these, 30% deliver their first child before 19 years.
- Sunderban witnesses over 1500 suicidal (deliberate self harm) attempts every year (85% by consuming pesticides).
I'm heading there tomorrow. . .