Villagers fear for survival on India's disappearing island

GHORAMARA ISLAND, India, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Residents of India's Ghoramara Island want to leave their home as it shrinks each year due to rising seas, but many say they can't afford it.

The 1.8 sq mile island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

The tiny island is home to 4,800 people, down from 7,000 a decade ago.

"If a tsunami or a big cyclone hits this island we will be finished," said Sanjib Sagar, village leader on the island 93 miles south of the Indian city of Kolkata.

The Sundarbans, shared by India and Bangladesh, include the world's largest mangrove forest as well as rare or endangered tigers, dolphins, birds and reptiles.

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Villagers fear for survival on India's disappearing island
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Villagers fear for survival on India's disappearing island

A hilsa fish is seen as fishermen pull the net on a boat near Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A man walks past a house which was damaged by a high tide on Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Mahabuba Khatun, 15, cleans a fishing net in front of her house on Ghoramara Island, India, September 7, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A woman walks towards an embankment after tying her cow to higher ground during high tide on Ghoramara Island, India, September 8, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A boy catches fish during high tide on Ghoramara Island, India, September 8, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Villagers work in a paddy field on Ghoramara Island, India, August 19, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A man reads a newspaper in a market area in Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Utensils belonging to a tea shop lie in a pond before getting washed on Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A fisherman and his family ride past Ghoramara Island on their boat on Muri Ganga River, India, August 18, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Workers repair a boat along the coastline on Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Children play on a broken embankment along with a salt water pond after high tide flooded Ghoramara Island, India, November 17, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A girl plays on the coastline on Ghoramara Island, India, October 23, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A man carries his son as he walks past a social welfare house on Ghoramara Island, India, October 25, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A fisherman cooks as others rest on a boat after casting net in the water near Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Children play on a banyan tree which was uprooted by high tide on Ghoramara Island, India, September 7, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Women gesture after a phone call in front of their house on Ghoramara Island, India, November 16, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A fisherman speaks with others as they prepare to cast a net in the waters near Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Angur Bala Mondal, 83, sits inside her house in front of posters of Hindu deities, after she broke her hip joint, in Ghoramara Island, India, August 19, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Mumtaz Bibi, 40, plays with her five-month-old granddaughter Nabina Khatun inside their house on Ghoramara Island, India, September 21, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Eight-month-old Sheikh Rahaman receives treatment with a nebuliser on Ghoramara Island, India, August 19, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Hindu women dance in a procession during Laxmi Puja festival on Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Purnima Shaw, 27, makes a ritual painting from rice paste on clay floor on the occasion of Laxmi Puja festival on Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A man gets shaved by a barber at a market on Ghoramara Island, India, September 20, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A ShiÕite Muslim man participates in a Muharram procession on Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Shi'ite Muslims carry a Tazia, or a replica of the coffin of Imam Hussein, during a Muharram procession on Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Students read their books and write under kerosene oil lamps on Ghoramara Island, India, November 16, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Students from a primary school read books inside a classroom on Ghoramara Island, India, November 16, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

ShiÕite Muslim men participate in a Muharram procession on Ghoramara Island, India, September 22, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Sulekha Haldar, 38, sells vegetables inside her shop in a market area on Ghoramara Island, India, September 20, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Sheikh Aftab Uddin, 66, and his wife Mamta Bibi, 50, pose for a picture outside their new mud house after their previous house was washed away due to high tides on Ghoramara Island, India, August 19, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. "If government gives rehabilitation I will leave," Uddin said. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

A Hindu woman lights a candle as she worships the Hindu goddess of wealth Laxmi in her house on the occasion of Laxmi Puja festival on Ghoramara Island, India, October 24, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders.

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Mihir Kumar Mondal, 51, works inside his betel leaf farm at Ghoramara Island, India, August 18, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. "Every year high-tide salt water enters my farm and destroys my cultivation, so I have to face a big loss every year," Mondal said. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Folk theatre actors perform at a makeshift theatre Jatra during annual Hindu festival of Jagadhatri Puja on Ghoramara Island, India, November 18, 2018. Ghoramara Island, part of the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal, has nearly halved in size over the past two decades, according to village elders. 

(REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

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Ghoramara is among many islands in the delta affected by rising sea levels and soil erosion experts say is caused by climate change.

Residents say the flood waters are getting worse, threatening their homes and livelihoods.

"If government gives rehabilitation I will leave," said Sheikh Aftab Uddin, sitting outside his new mud house with his wife, after his previous home was destroyed by flood waters.

Half of the villagers are ready to move if the government provided free land in a safer area, Sagar said, but there has been no response to their request for compensation or to move people off the island.

Two people in the office of Javed Ahmed Khan, the minister in charge of disaster management in the state government of West Bengal, declined to comment on whether it had any plans to relocate inhabitants.

Floods have churned the island's shoreline into mud fringed with broken coconut palms. Fishermen cast their nets to try to take advantage of the rising waters.

As well as damaging homes, floods destroy valuable betel leaf crops that many islanders have depended on for a living.

"Every year, high-tide salt water enters my farm and destroys my cultivation, so I have to face a big loss," said Mihir Kumar Mondal, a betel leaf farmer.

Climate change experts say the entire island population will have to be relocated one day.

"There has to be some planning for those people, in terms of relocating them to other areas. Frankly speaking, this has to be in the plan of the government," said Suruchi Bhadwal, a researcher on climate change at the New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute.

(Reporting by Rupak De Chowdhuri and Sunil Kataria Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)

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