Climate Witness: Jyotsna Giri, India

Posted on
18 septiembre 2008

I am 55 years old and married. My five daughters are married and my three sons live with me in the same house. Presently I have six family members.

English | Español

I studied until fifth grade and then got married at the age of twelve. My husband had a house at Lohachara Island and that’s where we settled after marriage. In fact my husband’s ancestral house was in the mainland but he shifted to this Island as there was plenty of productive agricultural land.

Lohachara had three more adjoining islands: Sagar, Ghoramara and Suparibhanga. Lohachara and Suparibhanga Islands don’t exist anymore, while Ghoramara is almost on the verge of extinction due to accelerated coastal erosion. Suparibhanga Island was densely forested and never had any human habitation. However, Ghoramara and Suparibhanga had a significant number of households in the past before these islands got wiped out fully or partly.

During the 1960s Lohachara Island was divided into 5 administrative zones and the total population was almost five or six thousand. Agriculture and fishing were our primary source of livelihood during those days. We also owned three hectares of agricultural land on this Island. We use to cultivate paddy [rice] as well as variety of vegetables on these lands. Land was extremely fertile and we had a bountiful harvest every season without using fertiliser. Soil was very soft, fertile and sandy. Even the embankments near the river were used for growing vegetables. Coastal waters were stashed with fishes and crabs and that provided us with a good catch.

Lohachara Island did not have any source of drinking water. The only tube well we had was eroded away by the river and the government never installed another one. So, we use to cross the river and fetch drinking water from a nearby island.

High sand content in the soil made this island prone to coastal erosion during regular tidal action. The river was slowly eating away the entire island and later we were only left with our homestead land and some domestic animals. We had 20 cows, 150 sheep, 35 goats and some poultry.

I still remember that fateful day, when I lost everything.

I was on the neighbouring island to fetch some drinking water. My husband was not present that day and so I locked the house and took my son with me. While coming back, I found that the only ferry service available was cancelled for the day due to some kind of engine snag. So, I decided to stay back at my parent’s house for that night. The ferry service started the very next day and I boarded the morning ferryboat. When we approached Lohachara Island, I suddenly noticed that my sheep were all drifting in the river.

I started to panic and rushed to rescue them. I was about to jump in the river when some fellow passengers stopped me from doing so. I felt helpless and started crying. After landing at Lohachara Island I found that half of my house was washed away by the river. Slowly the entire island got submerged.

We were rescued and went to Gangasagar Island refugee colony which is on the south of that island. We stayed there for a few days and then shifted to northern parts of the island where we constructed a new house. We have been living here for the last 15 years. We don’t have any agricultural land and have to work as labourers. My son has grown up and now he works on a ship.

Unpredictable weather patterns and fast deteriorating environmental conditions are making our life miserable.

I am not even able to grow enough vegetables in my kitchen garden as there are no rains for the last couple of months. Soil fertility as well as productivity is gradually declining. Earlier we used to follow the broadcast method for paddy [rice] cultivation. Now farmers have to invest a lot in terms of hiring labour, purchasing fertiliser and continuous monitoring. Similarly, fishing has been badly affected as we don’t even get much fishes in the river to catch.

I feel that the natural regeneration rate has declined. We have already lost much of our natural resources in this region and which may be attributed to erratic weather patterns and changing temperature. It seems that monsoons are delayed while summers are extended these days.


Scientific review

A scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel is pending.


Lohachara Island was an islet which was permanently flooded in the 1980s. It was located in the Hooghly River as part of the Sundarban delta in the Sundarban National Park, located near the Indian state of West Bengal. The definite disappearance of the island was reported by Indian researchers in December 2006, which lead to international press coverage.

The islet is one of a number of "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta: in the past two decades, four islands – Bedford, Lohachara, Kabasgadi and Suparibhanga – have been permanently flooded and 6,000 families have been made homeless. The loss of land has created thousands of refugees in the area.

An independent scientific peer review of this Climate Witness story has been coordinated by the WWF India office. Please contact
Claire Carlton if you would like more details.