A new interactive story, The tiger, the fisherman, his wife and our future, created by Christian Aid, explores how Royal Bengal tigers in the Indian Sundarbans are helping to protect millions of people in Kolkata and south Bengal from the devastating impacts of climate change.
The Sundarban tigers, with a fearsome reputation for human attacks, protect the world’s largest mangrove forest from deforestation. The 4,000 square miles of mangrove, which spans India and Bangladesh, acts as a vital carbon sink and natural buffer against increasingly intense cyclones and storm surges.
But the Sundarbans are also home to poor landless communities who struggle to make a living in this unforgiving environment. Unable to farm the land because rising sea levels have made the soil too salty to grow crops, they are forced to fish in the channels running through the mangroves, and find other means of survival such as collecting honey.
This means they are encroaching on tiger territory. Their impact on the forest is limited, however, by the presence of the man eaters. Without the tigers, say local conservationists, the mangroves would soon disappear at the hands of humans, leaving Kolkata and South Bengal exposed to major floods from cyclone-related storm surges.
The interactive begins with a fictional tale, written in the style of a traditional Indian folk story, which tells of the relationship between local villagers, the Sundarban tigers, and the world they both inhabit.
The story is supported by real life accounts from fishermen who have survived tiger attacks, and widows who lost their husbands to the “guardians of the forests”, with accompanying photography by award-winning photojournalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind.
Minati Roy, a 42 year old widow from Jharkhali, Basanti Island, remembers the day she lost her husband: “I was not in a good mood. Some unexpected occurrence or bad news was going to come to my heart.” However, she understands why tigers are important: “The tigers are protecting the forest. If there were no forests, no trees, there would be no life.”
Local conservationist Joydip Kundu, from the Society of Heritage and Ecological Research in Kolkata, also explains why poor communities risk their lives and why the tigers, thought to number about 100, are so vital for the protection of the mangroves.
“It is fear of the tigers that keeps people out of the forest. The moment you take the tiger out of the landscape, the entire ecosystem will vanish. The tiger is protecting the mangrove ecosystem and it is because of the mangrove that the entire south of Bengal is safe,” he says.
Over the last 30 years the Indian Sundarbans has lost more than 100 square kilometers of land to the rising sea, an area equivalent to the size of Manchester. The region is experiencing relative sea level rise at double the global average, with scientists predicting that much of the Sundarbans will be underwater by the end of the century leading to mass migration, if nothing is done to stop climate change.
This year, 2015, is crucially important in the battle to prevent global warming becoming more pronounced. A new set of development goals must be reached to replace the UN Millennium Development Goals which terminate at the end of the year. Christian Aid wants strong integration of climate change targets in the new goals.
And at a UN climate summit in Paris, in December, the international community must agree carbon capping measures, to come into force in five years’ time, in a bid to keep the global temperature rise to below 2oC, the point beyond which scientists predict climate chaos.
The tiger, the fisherman, his wife and our future, was created to highlight Christian Aid’s One Million Ways campaign, which encourages people to share the ways in which they are helping to tackle climate change. The campaign aims to reach one million actions and help challenge politicians to match public efforts.