Background and site description

The Resilience project is taking place in two different geographical areas in the southern part of West Bengal; the districts North and South 24 Parganas. Both areas are densely populated.

In North 24 Parganas about 80 % of the population are immigrants from Bangladesh. Many own small lots or are landless. More recently newcomers from different areas of the federal state and refugees from Bangladesh inhabit the more vulnerable areas of South 24 Parganas, only few with their own legal properties.

South 24 Parganas includes the premises of JGVK in the village Joygopalpur in Basanti Island, which is also a part of Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. In Sunderbans the population is amongst the poorest of the world with a yearly income of around $250-300 per family.

The villagers are usually employed as farmers, day-labour workers, housekeepers etc. Regarding religion, the population is Hindus from different casts, Muslims, Christians or belong to tribal religions. Despite the diversity in religions and casts the basic problems faced are the same and only few differences are observed in daily activities.

The project activities are situated in four blocks; Basanti and Gosaba in South 24 Parganas as well as Sandeshkhali and Gaighata in North 24 Parganas.

Basanti Block

Every 2nd to 3rd year people in the area experience flooding due to cyclones. In the southern part of the Island salt water intrusion to fields and ponds due to poor embankments occur every 15 days when it is high tide. Flooding due to monsoon rain occurs in some areas. During summer (dry period) several places on Basanti Island experience that shallow wells are running dry and that the groundwater resource is decreasing year by year. In the south they also experience saline groundwater in some tube wells.

Gosaba Block

Gosaba Block is severely affected by yearly floods from a combination of cyclones, high tides and heavy rain, especially in July and August. Even several years after the cyclone Aila hit Gosaba Island in 2009, some areas are still affected with saline water in the ponds and reduced output from crops. The groundwater resource is very scarce and fresh groundwater can only be found on a small part of the Island, increasing the severity of the problems with contaminated surface water caused by flooding.

Gaighata Block

Arsenic is a common problem in this area where approximately half of all shallow wells are contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic. Furthermore, they experience scarcity of the groundwater resource. Also flooding from monsoon rain is common, and with limited capacity in drainage channels for the water to be directed away from the area, houses and agricultural land are destroyed.

Sandeshkhali Block

Cyclones are a major problem in this area that occurs every few years and result in flooding of agricultural land and roads leading to scarce food supply. Sandeshkhali experiences flooding from monsoon rain every year. Furthermore, cases of arsenic contamination are now being observed in the northern part and they experience that shallow tube wells runs dry during the summer time.