Protecting the Sundarbans area

Protecting the Sundarbans area

Shushilan, one of Concern's partners, is a small NGO which has been operating in the area of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh for 15 years.

Its work focuses on ecology, agriculture, forestry, and promoting human rights and good governance. The issues of environment and climate change are central to the organisation’s work, as these profoundly affect livelihoods in the area.

Staff at Shushilan refer to the Sundarbans area as “the lifeblood of Bangladesh”, because of its important function as a buffer between Bangladesh and the Indian Ocean, as well as its rich biodiversity. The shrinking of the protective Sundarban forest, coupled with a rise in poverty due to income loss from failed crops, has pushed this area into a vicious circle of poverty and ecological destruction.

In the past, man-made embankments were temporary features protecting against floods. More recently, however, permanent constructions (part of the increasing shrimp trade) are severely affecting the siltation levels of the rivers. As the volume of silt deposited on the river bed rises, so do water levels, leading to more frequent floods and water logging.

There are also factors that these communities have no control over: sudden temperature fluctuations, a shift in seasons, changes in the amount of rainfall and the increased salinity in the soil are all factors that impact on their crops.

Agriculture methods

Until the 1960s, traditional agricultural practises were used. They were largely ecologically sound – pesticides and chemicals were rarely used. However, there has been a gradual shift towards short-duration, more saline-tolerant species of crops, as well as an increase in pesticide use in an effort to boost failing crops. 

Making changes

Shushilan is trying to reverse this trend by encouraging local farmers to change back to more ecologically friendly agriculture methods, educating them about the adverse effects of using chemicals.

Shushilan is also informing and training the local community to prepare for natural disasters. “If you know you will be attacked, at least you can have a line of defence”, says Mr Qazi Wasdud Wawaz, Shushilan’s Research and Development Advisor.