‘The island has been shrinking’: living on the frontline of global heating
From extreme weather obliterating homes to rising sea levels ruining crops, climate breakdown is a terrifying daily reality for many
Throughout the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, the Guardian will be publishing the stories of the people whose lives have been upended – sometimes devastated – by the climate breakdown.
Sunil Kandar, Ghoramara Island, India
I live in the Hatkhola locality of Ghoramara. I remember how on this island, during my childhood, I had a very happy and enjoyable life. We had a big mud-walled house. We also had large farmland of our own where rice and other vegetables grew. We sold a big part of our farm produce in the market. Like some other families in the island we were pretty rich. The farmland owned by our family was our biggest strength.
Our island is located at the mouth of a river coming from the north. The northern edge of the island began sinking bit by bit under the river water when I was a child. Then, 20 or 25 years ago, the sea began eating away land around the southern edge of the island where we lived. Ghoramara began going underwater almost from all sides and the island began shrinking fast. Farmlands and houses of the people are constantly going underwater.
Cyclones are pounding our island more frequently in recent years. The fragile island is too feeble to keep away the tidal waves. Often during natural disasters, tidal waves cause flooding of the island with salty seawater. Whatever farmlands are left on the island are turning unusable because of inundation by seawater and increasing salinity of the soil.
Once I owned four acres of farmland. In the past 20 years, three-quarters of it has been lost under the sea. This year I have been forced to buy rice for us, for the first time in my life.
I am over 50 now. I cannot go out of the island, learn a new skill and pick up another job. My son knew he cannot earn a living on this island. So, he left the island and has become a migrant day-wage labourer in south India and sends money to support our family.
Within a few years, my son, daughters and their families will have to move out of this island to save their lives. But my wife and I are already very old. Somehow we will spend the remaining few years of our lives on this island.
Oceanographers and other experts came to the island and conducted studies five years ago. They said the water level around the island is rising and it will perhaps completely vanish underwater by 2050. But in the past five years, the island has been shrinking. I think Ghoramara will disappear underwater within 10 or 15 years.