Rising sea levels threaten BHUBANESWAR, INDIA coastline

BHUBANESWAR, INDIA: With the climate changing alarmingly across the world, environmentalists here have expressed concern about the state’s coastline that is getting eroded due to the global rise in sea levels.

According to a study on regional coastal processes done in 2014 by the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP), around 10 per cent of Odisha’s coastline in the districts of Puri, Kendrapara and Ganjam is vulnerable to sea erosion. The population of these six coastal districts is around 89.7 lakh out of the state’s total population of four crore.

Another study by the National Centre for Coastal Research said that 28 per cent of the coastline has already been lost to the sea. “From 1999 to 2016 about 154 km of the 480 km have been lost. This is mainly due to changing wind patterns causing high tidal waves, and the water constantly inundating habitable areas,” the study said.

The impact of these losses is felt by people staying near the shore like Kubera Sahu of Gunadalba village in Puri who has already moved three times inside as rising sea levels have swallowed his land.

“Since two decades the villagers have moved 350 metres inside. Water levels have risen sharply in the last decade and things turn worst with cyclones constantly hitting us,” said the 65-year-old Sahu.

The 1999 super cyclone, the Phailin and the Fani have had a severe impact on the livelihoods of people staying on the shore. As erosion and sea-levels increase, the areas of farmland decrease. More people become landless and people migrate to cities.

Explaining his ordeal, Sridhar Khatua, a migrant labourer, said, “In my village near Sahana, sea water has contaminated wells and increased soil salinity making it less fertile. There is only a handful of yielding coconut trees instead of the dozens a decade ago.”

Another research published in the Journal of Glaciology says that the melting of glaciers worldwide could result in almost 10 inches of rise in sea levels by the end of this century. However, the impact of this phenomenon is anticipated to be much more along the Indian coast.

“These projections should be taken seriously especially by a state like Odisha where the economy has received tremendous blows due to natural disasters. The coastal districts of Orissa have experienced major sea surges in the past. Identification of vulnerable areas and effective risk mapping and assessment is the need of the hour. Damage can be minimised if sea surges are forecast in advance,” said environmentalist Pratyush Dash.

Dash also emphasised adopting more nature-based solutions like developing mangrove forests which can serve as a natural barrier to the sea. “Involvement of local communities in decision making is also a must as they are the ones who have firsthand knowledge of their places,” he said.

Aviral Mishra, OP