Livelihoods programme supports over 40,000 people in the Sundarbans area of West Bengal, India to rebuild after devastating cyclones and manage growing climate threat

West Bengal, India
  • A vast river delta in India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is one of the world’s richest ecosystems but has been battered by cyclones and rising seawater.
  • The Ankur programme is helping to rebuild lives and strengthen resilience to climate change, particularly for women.
  • Community Jameel and the Rupantaran Foundation have helped over 40,000 people to recover from devastation and to better withstand future shocks from climate change.

Community Jameel, an international organisation advancing science and learning for communities to thrive, and the Rupantaran Foundation, a not for profit, non-governmental organisation in West Bengal, India, have joined forces in the Ankur programme, helping over 40,000 people in the Sundarbans region of West Bengal in India recover their livelihoods following catastrophic devastation caused by cyclones, and manage the rising threat of climate change.

The Sundarbans is a vast, 10,000 km2 area of water and low-lying land at the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers that extends from West Bengal in India into Bangladesh. Home to the largest mangrove forest in the world, tigers, monitor lizards and one of the most biologically productive of all natural ecosystems, the Sundarbans national park in India was inscribed into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s list of world heritage sites in 1987.

Between 2019 and 2021, including in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple cyclones hit the Sundarbans, devastating land, homes and entire communities. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee and agricultural land and drinking water supplies were flooded and contaminated by saltwater, resulting in the loss of livelihoods and a public health emergency. The threats posed by climate change – of rising sea levels and more extreme weather – mean people living in the Sundarbans are likely to face similar crises in the years ahead.

Launched in 2021 in the face of this upheaval, the Ankur programme has helped 10,000 families – around 42,000 people – rebuild their lives, while strengthening their resilience to future shocks. Drawing on traditional and sustainable agricultural practices, nurturing mangroves for coastal defence, and advancing the evidence base for the effectiveness of saline-resistant seed varieties, the programme provides livelihood support to approximately 3,000 families and poultry farming support to 10,000 families, enhancing farmers’ ability to overcome saline intrusion of their arable land. Emphasising women's empowerment, the programme has formed 400 women's collectives with 10,000 women from the supported households, facilitating the transmission of traditional knowledge and community practices, and providing a platform for an inclusive approach to farming.

Smita Sen, executive director of the Rupantaran Foundation, said: “The people of the Indian Sundarbans have been facing the impacts of climate change in their daily lives and struggling with the cyclones and the hungry tides of the Bay of Bengal. This project aims to support 10,000 vulnerable families in the Indian Sundarbans, focusing on women of these families as the primary beneficiaries as well as changemakers. We are thankful to Community Jameel for this much needed support to ensure their food security and positively impacting on the lives and livelihoods of the people affected by climate change.”

George Richards, director of Community Jameel, said: “The Ankur programme was launched by Community Jameel and the Rupantaran Foundation in the aftermath of devastation, when hundreds of thousands of people living in a fragile ecosystem had their lives ripped apart by cyclones in the midst of a pandemic. Through the tireless work of the Rupantaran Foundation, harnessing traditional agricultural practices and evidence-based approaches to saline-resistant farming, this response has not only helped over 40,000 people rebuild their lives – it has also made their communities more resilient to the rising threats posed by climate change.”

Through the Ankur programme, more than 90% of the families involved have been able to grow crops successfully and achieve a high degree of nutritional self-sufficiency.