Let there be light | WWF India

Solar lights installed in the Sundarbans are helping reduce human-wildlife interaction in the region and improving livelihoods of the people in Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve

In Pathar Para - a hamlet of Sadhupur village, located in the fringes of the SundarbanTiger Reserve -  access to energyis scarce. And like the rest of us, the people of Pathar Para are widely dependent on natural resources for energy. Apart from agriculture, communities depend on Fishing, honey collection etc. as their main source of livelihood. Unlike the rest of us, however, the people of Pathar Para are prone to threats from tigers while collecting these resources as they venture into the forests. Cases of tigers straying inside human habitation have  also been regular occurrences in this region.

To minimise negative human-wildlife interaction, WWF-India, in collaboration with the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Directorate and with support from Woodland and other network funds, has been working with communities to install solar lights to deter tigers from straying into villages at night, since 2009. Fringe villages along 24 Parganas South Forest Division and Sundarban Tiger Reserve were chosen for this initiative, as the maximum number of wildlife straying incidents were reported from these areas.Combined solar light connections for both home and street lightswere provided to households, thus, making the communitiesresponsible and ensuring safety.

Community members have observed significant reduction in cases of human-wildlife interaction after installation of these lights, thereby reducing hostility towards wildlife. The solar lights have also aided in improving the socio-economic conditions of the area. A wonderful example of this is Sarala Baidya and her family.

Sarala, 54, has been weaving baskets (locally called PaliDhama) for the past 13 years, a skill  passed onto her by her mother. Her son, PabitraBaidya supports his family by fishing with a monthly income of 4000 – 5000 rupees. Sarala makes an effort to contribute by weaving these baskets. “The installation of solar lights has come as a blessing,” reflects Sarala,“I can weave almost twice the number of baskets than before”.The raw materials for these baskets, ‘Sabai’ grass are locally unavailable and she procures it from the weekly markets. As evening approaches, the hamlet is no longer dark, and it’s easier for her to walk back from markets, owing to presence of solar street slights.

Sarala’s daughter-in-law, Siuli, tries to help out her husband by nurturing another traditional knowledge – “zari” embroidery on sarees. Siuli earned a miniscule amount of 200 rupees per saree and her work hours were restricted. With access to solar lights, she has now managed to double her productivity.

Today, with the installation of solar street lights, the village is bustling with activity after sunset. Community are engaging in other activities in the evening, shops remain open and engaging in conversations along the village streetsis no longer constrained. The installation of solar lights has also brought a sense of security to the community members in the area.

Sushma Singh, Sarala’s neighbour said that presence of lights has helped them in spotting animals easier and the area has therefore seen a marked decrease in incidents of human-wildlife interaction.

Be it improving the quality of life or opening up avenues of alternative livelihood opportunities, the solar lights have lit up Pathar Para in many ways, giving it a new leases of light and life.

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