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Swastik Pal
The view from Ghoramara.

Photos: This is life on a sinking island

Swastik Pal
By Swastik Pal

Photographer

What would you do if everything you owned were sinking in front of you? The question torments residents of Ghoramara Island, India.

Ghoramara is an island about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Calcutta, in the Sunderban Delta. Since 1969, at least half of its landmass has disappeared under water, leaving only five square kilometers (1235 acres).

The day I landed there, one-third of the remaining island was flooded. There was a full moon, and high tides had filled the river, washing away Ghoramara’s embankments, along with acres of plantation and animals.

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Global warming has also caused the river to swell, as snow melts off the mighty Himalayas and pours into the Bay of Bengal. Lohachara, a former island near Ghoramara, now lies deep under the water. Climate refugees from both Lohachara and Ghoramara villages have fled to nearby Sagar Island, where they live in camps built by the Indian government.

A few subsistence fishermen and betel farmers remain. “Those left behind help each other during times of crisis. That’s the only way to survive in these hostile conditions,” Ghoramara resident Sanjeev Sagar, 40, told me. According to the last election data, 5,300 people officially reside on Ghoramara, but many men migrate to the southern part of India to work in construction sites.

In 2010, researchers at Jadavpur University concluded that 15% of the Sunderban islands will sink by 2020. Tiny Ghoramara, as well as bigger, neighboring islands, are likely to disappear completely.

The following photos are from my project, The Hungry Tide – work in progress which documents the last inhabitants of this sinking island. Creation of The Hungry Tide was supported by a 2015 National Foundation of India (NFI) media fellowship.

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