Lockdown due to novel corona virus (COVID-19): an update on the situation in the Sundarbans

India has been under complete lockdown since 22 March. The lockdown has had severe consequences for the people living in the Sundarbans and our local partner Joygopalpur Gram Vikash Kendra (JGVK).

People are starving and JGVK is working hard to provide support to the people in their community. Almost all of JGVK’s staff has been sent home which has forced them to cease several of their usual activities. This includes the school, which has been closed, and activities related to our project in Sustainable Water Resources Management (SWRM). 

JGVK’s health centre is still running, but with fewer staff and with the burden of a much higher workload than before. The health centre is one of the few in Basanti and surroundings and also one of the most affordable, making its services essential to many people. JGVK is furthermore supporting the poorest villagers in their surroundings by distributing food, some of which are grown in JGVK’s own farm. Many families are starving and do not have any means of livelihood as a consequence of the lockdown. To date, JGVK estimates that there are almost 3,800 families in their intervention areas that are in immediate need of support in order to survive. 

Many migrant laborers from especially the states of Kerala and Maharashtra – the two states showing the highest number of COVID-19 infections in India – are returning to the Sundarbans during the lockdown, which is worrying: most of the migrant laborers have not been tested and have a casual approach to the lockdown, thus posing an infection risk to their families and their surroundings, who are already in a bad shape. Adding to this, groundwater levels are decreasing, limiting the possibilities for maintaining basic hygiene in a time where proper hygiene is needed the most.

For our SWRM project, JGVK has reported that some groundwater and tide measurements are still being conducted. Due to the seasonal variation in groundwater levels (where April is usually the driest month), groundwater levels are decreasing, with tube well water levels decreasing by as much as 13.5 meters since UBU’s midterm evaluation visit. Furthermore, some tube wells are not functioning. JGVK has conducted some repairs, but their resources to conduct these are very limited.

In terms of agriculture, JGVK has been able to monitor the status of the crops in the intervention areas. These include alternative crops and SRI-cultivated rice, which JGVK has reported are looking good. If the lockdown is extended beyond 3 May – which in the current situation is quite likely – it may be difficult to obtain the much-needed data on yields from harvest that is expected to take place in late April to mid-May.

Furthermore, the conduction of trainings for farmers on topics including alternative crops for the new season, SRI, and organic practices have been put on hold for now, as well as JGVK’s conduction of advocacy work. Once the lockdown is over, it may be difficult to organise programs at higher levels (e.g. Block Level) like JGVK has been doing prior to the lockdown, since the government will be busy with rehabilitation work. 

UBU is currently looking into how we best can support JGVK economically and emotionally in their relief work during these challenging times. This includes being in close contact with our local project staff and our donor organisation CISU.