The worldwide pandemic has dealt a fatal blow to the livelihoods of the people of the Sundarbans. The primary sources of securing basic necessities in this region involve occupations such as honey and wax procurement, tourism, collection from NTFPs (Non-Timber Forest Product) and handicrafts. These have been severely impacted.
Whatever resources people had saved up as a measure to survive the pandemic, and the consequent lockdown has dried up. In addition, the continuous lack of work has made it extremely difficult for the locals to sustain themselves further. Moreover, due to movement restrictions, forays into the forest in pursuit of their traditional professions have also come to a standstill. To make matters worse, even if they did get the required resources for producing various commodities and even if the products were made available, there is no one to buy them.
Simultaneously with the curfew, the delivery or shipping of products has also been limited to only necessary commodities by the government. Since livelihoods in this area were essentially dependent on tourist engagement and the shipping of some specific products, both of which have become almost obsolete, the impact of the pandemic has been disastrous.
Swapnopuron Welfare Society (SWS) has been making efforts since the beginning of the lockdown to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. However, unfortunately, the lockdown is not the only thing that has adversely affected the Sunderbans. The cyclone ‘Yaas’ brought about strong winds and heavy rainfall throughout West Bengal and Odisha. It arrived late in the month of May and destroyed some significant areas, leaving people homeless and empty.
Coastal regions like the Sundarbans in North and South 24 Parganas, Digha and Mandarmani in Medinipur and several other areas were severely affected as swollen rivers inundated the banks and broke dams and barriers. Hingalganj, in the Sundarbans (North 24 Parganas), was one of the worst cyclone-affected areas. As the events unfolded, reports started pouring in about the utter devastation caused. Some reports stated that dams as high as 25 ft were filled to the brim, and some had even breached and were overflowing. While reports said that nearly the destruction of embankments had displaced five hundred families, many more families were left with nothing by the time the cyclone had dissipated.
SWS swung into action both before and after the arrival of the cyclone. For instance, before the storm hit on the night of May 25th, SWS had already temporarily evacuated 100 individuals and given them shelter in the school building of Swapnopuron Shiksha Niketan.
With the worsening Covid-19 situation and the terrible aftermath of the cyclone, SWS made considerable efforts to provide food, shelter and all other necessary items that they could gather for the suffering families and individuals. The aim was, and remains, to save as many lives as possible while keeping in mind the immeasurable amount of assets these people have already lost in the double adversity.