A long-running territorial dispute between Bangladesh and India has been settled in recent weeks by an unexpected mediator – climate change. The countries have been arguing over New Moore Island in the Sundarbans since 1974. As it lies directly opposite the mouth of the river that forms the border, both feel they have a legitimate claim. The dispute is now moot, as the two mile long island no longer appears on satellite imagery. It has been swallowed by the sea.
Sea levels in the Sundarban delta have been rising by 5mm a year for the last decade. Several islands have already succumbed, some uninhabited, like New Moore, others not. Lohachara was abandoned in 2006, its population relocated to nearby islands. An estimated 70,000 people will see their homes washed from under them in the coming years. Until then, it is a daily battle to maintain dykes and river banks against high tides that flood villages and destroy crops with salt water.
Compounding the human tragedy, the Sundarbans are the world’s largest mangrove forest and a biodiversity hotspot. It’s unusual ecosystem is home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger, turtles, estuarine crocodiles and horse shoe crabs. The delta was designated a World Heritage site in 1997, but UNESCO estimates that 75% of the Sundarban region could be submerged by the end of the century.
These kind of stories remind you just what a luxury it is to still be arguing about climate change.