Lying in the low coastal zone makes the Sundarbans more vulnerable to floods, earthquakes, cyclones, sea-level rise and coastline erosion.
1. Vulnerability to climate change
Lying in the low coastal zone makes the Sundarbans more vulnerable to the effects of the changing climatic conditions such as floods, cyclones, relative sea-level rise, and coastline erosion. Studies suggest that climate change is leading to increased salinity and higher tidal surges, and permanent submergence of land mass. This results in loss of critical habitat for biodiversity, both fauna and flora. It has been found that the relative mean sea-level in Sagar Island (in the Sundarbans) and adjoining areas of the Bay of Bengal is rising at the rate of 12 mm per year, as compared to the global average of 2 mm per year. The projected loss of area for 12 of the most vulnerable sea-facing islands by 2020 is between 3 per cent and 32 per cent. Such drastic changes in climatic conditions are also leading to frequently occurring cyclonic storms.
2. Exploitation of natural resources
The Sundarbans is home to a large human population which is riddled with poverty. Due to inadequate infrastructure, health-care, education and transport, as well as restricted livelihood options, communities have to struggle for even their basic requirements. There are approximately 1100 villages in the Sundarbans region, of which 62 are situated on the fringes of the forest. A majority of the population here depends on fuelwood for thermal energy, as biomass in the villages is inadequate to meet their energy demands. They are heavily dependent on forest resources such as fish and crab, as their source of livelihood. This biotic pressure and unsustainable exploitation of forest resources leads to degradation of the natural habitat, resulting in loss of biodiversity.
3. Human-wildlife conflict
The human population in the Sundarbans is heavily dependent on biodiversity resources for their livelihood. Due to their proximity to the mangrove forests, they are exposed to a unique set of biotic hazards, ranging from snakebites to tiger attacks. Incidents of wildlife straying into the villages are also on the rise. Records show that between 1985 and 2008, 789 persons were attacked by tigers, out of which 666 succumbed to their injuries, and a total of 279 incidents of tiger-straying cases occurred in the fringe villages. This level of conflict leads to antagonism towards wildlife conservation initiatives.