Sundarbans Bangladesh


  • Coastal zone occupying world’s largest delta
  • Over 10,000km2 of Southern Bangladesh and India on Bay of Bengal
  • Formed from deposited sediment from 3 rivers – Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna
  • Natural climax ecosystems are mangrove forests and swamps

Coastal Processes

  • Primary natural process shaping area is tidal action
  • Network of interconnecting river channels flows across clay and silt deposits
  • Larger channels are normally straight and up to 2km wide flowing north to south because of tidal currents
  • Smaller channels are called khals – drain land with each powerful ebb tide
  • Non-cohesive sediments (eg. sand) are washed out the delta and deposited on banks/chars at river mouths – blown onto sand dunes
  • Finer silts and washed into bays and deposited – wave action adds and shapes further deposits forming new islands
  • Dense mangrove forests are home to endangered Royal Bengal Tiger
  • Forests have sustained local populations for generations


  • Very important ecosystem for locals – lots of economic and environmental opportunities
  • Goods: fuel (firewood/charcoal), construction materials (timber/poles), household items (furniture/glue), food/drink (seafood/leaves and fruits/honey/cooking oil), other (medicine/animal food)
  • Services: protection (flood/shoreline erosion), provision (breeding ground/fishing ground), maintenance (biodiversity and genetic resources/ecosystem resilience/organic matter and fertility), value (cultural, spiritual and religious/recreation and tourism/heritage)


  • Some people view the area as uninhabitable due to some of the great challenges associated with it
  • Natural: flooding, cyclones, high salinity in soil, instability of islands, human-eating tigers
  • Human: over-exploitation of coastal resources, conversion of wetlands to intensive agriculture and settlement, destructive fishing techniques, resource-use conflicts, lack of awareness of coastal issues by decision-makers

Response to challenges: resilience

  • Goods and services provided allow population to remain resilient
  • Mangrove forests provide great resilience – protection and shelter against storm winds, floods, tsunamis, coastal erosion
  • Density of 30 trees per 0.01 hectares can reduce destructive force of tsunami by up to 90%
  • Fertility of soil and ecological diversity provide great supply of nutritious food
  • One hectare of mangrove forest has annual economic value of $12,000 – fishing, timber/tannin production etc

Response to challenges: mitigation

  • People of Sundarbans can moderate risks in various ways
  • Before more recent human pressures, people used many open access natural resources – khas land (owned by government so protected for use by local populations), wetlands and fisheries, forests
  • 3500km of embankments built to prevent flooding – gradually being eroded so perhaps not that effective
  • Significant investment in infrastructure to combat threat of natural disasters
  • Livelihood assets are important to mitigate challenges
    • Financial – savings, credit etc
    • Physical – housing, tube wells, electricity, tools etc
    • Natural – land, water etc
    • Social – NGOs, local networks
    • Human – people, health, education
  • Mitigation and resilience has become more difficult in recent years – people struggle more with livelihood assets so poverty and marginalisation increases due to:
    • Less open access resources – deforestation etc
    • Degradation of ecosystems
    • Corruption of local and national political institutions
    • Conflicts over land ownership
    • Increasing deaths by tigers – if a woman’s husband is killed by a tiger, she will struggle to live herself

Response to challenges: adaptation

  • Due to climate change, future generations may struggle to adapt to the conditions in the Sundarbans
  • There will be many future challenges:
    • Increased frequency and intensity of floods
    • Shrimping industry builds permanent embankments which encourage deposition of silt so raising river water levels
    • Rising temperatures contribute to soil salinity
    • Increased pesticide and fertiliser affects water quality
    • Changes to seasonal rainfall patterns
  • The populations of the Sundarbans have developed ways in which they adapt to the conditions and changes:
    • Grassroots NGOs run education programmes – farmers encouraged to return to ecologically friendly methods
    • NGOs give preparation for natural disasters
    • USAID trains communities to be resilient to climate shocks – 30,000 people received training on improving agricultural techniques
    • Salt-tolerant rice varieties – can survive submersion in sea water for over 2 weeks
    • NGOs built latrines on higher ground and educate communities about water-borne diseases and sanitation
    • Installing storage tanks for rainwater in areas at greatest risk from salt water inundation