KOLKATA, 10th June: Post-cyclone Aila, the ecologically fragile Sundarbans in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal is facing another problem — flooding of plastic materials.
Hundreds of non-governmental organisations and private donors, who throng the area to provide relief, are dumping plastic covers, cups and wrappers in water, thus choking rivers. A world heritage site, the Sundarbans has long been declared a plastic-free zone. Yet, tonnes of plastic waste strewn around by volunteers are floating in rivers.
In the absence of government guidelines and as relief distribution has not been coordinated, enthusiastic NGOs have poured into the affected sites with food packets, drinking water sachets and even clothes wrapped in plastic covers.
“We cannot stop the NGOs from carrying on the relief work in this hour of crisis and it is also not possible to keep a check on everyone. All that we can do now is to sensitise them to the plastic menace through the media and ask them not to litter the region with plastic waste,” N.C. Bahuguna, Director of the Sundarbans Forest Reserve, told The Hindu on Monday.
Mr. Bahuguna said he was trying to take up the matter with higher authorities. As Forest department staff themselves were pressed into service to provide relief, it would take some time before any concrete result appeared, he pointed out. “Once water recedes and the situation comes under control somewhat, we will launch a massive clean-up drive.”
This would, however, take months to be completed, said a forest official. According to him, though cleaning up the peripheral areas would be easier, it was impossible to retrieve plastic waste washed into the core area by high tides and this could pose an ecological hazard for both flora and fauna on the islands of the estuarine delta.