Keywords: Sundarbans, climate change, planetary health, endangered, salinity,
digital healthcare, healthcare, impoverished, disease burden,
vulnerable, conference, iKure, mangrove, delta.
The Unconference for Solutions was held at Tora Eco Resort, Bali II Island, Sundarbans from 23rd-25th February 2023. The panel for Track II: Impact of Climate Change on Health included Mr. Soumitra Ghosh (Chief of Party ABT Associates) was the moderator of the panel, Mr. Sujay Santra (Founder & CEO; iKure Techsoft Pvt.Ltd), Mr. Todd Huber (Founder & Chairperson; Cattellyst Foundation), Ms. Pompy Sridhar
(Director & Country HeadIndia at MSD for Mothers), Dr. Raja Dhar
(Head of Department; Pulmonology C K Birla Hospitals).
Sundarbans is one of the largest deltaic mangrove forests in the world formed by the mighty rivers Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna. It is spanning over an area of 4264 sq. km in India alone consisting of 102 islands of which 54 are inhabited by 4.5 million people. This unique and ever changing ecosystem of Sundarbans is facing aggression from climate change that is challenging the lives and livelihood of the inhabitants. According to reports of 2016, imbalance in the ecosystem, the total area of Sundarbans has shrunk by 451 km 2 since 1904. This has led to human-animal conflict in this ever-shrinking space causing tiger and human to be squeezed up.
The rising salinity in this region due to lack of freshwater and rising sea
levels impacts the health of the inhabitants especially the mother-child health. People living there suffer from stomach ailments related to indigestion and acidity, hypertension, dehydration, skin lesions, anemia and hypocalcemia due to lack of freshwater. Children are three times more vulnerable to communicable and pulmonary diseases keeping aside the constant attacks by animals and snake
bites of the localites who step out for their survival.
Sundarbans is a living example of imbalance in interdependence between humans and environment. Human activity has not only over-exploited the available resources but also generated immense pollution leading to immense loss of biodiversity that has led to one of the biggest threats to human survival, i.e., climate change. This
complex relationship between environmental sustainability and its impact on human health is phrased as Planetary Health.
iKure along with its co-partners Centre for Sustainable Health Innovations, Public Health Foundation of India, Cattellyst, Recanteur and several other global organizations had organised a two day event, ‘Unconference for Solutions’ in the heart of Sundarbans to look for apt solutions.
Survival is a major concern in Sundarbans hence, education and health is not given much importance in this region. Health services in the Sundarbans experience regional imbalance varying from less than one in 5 per 100,000 population. Many of the islands of Sundarbans, approximately 11 of them, are not even connected to proper roads or decent healthcare facilities. It takes almost 5 hours on an average to
reach the main town of Gosaba for a doctor check-up. There are zero tertiary care units in these islands in case of healthcare emergencies.
Lack of proper healthcare and inaccessibility of healthcare increases the disease burden of the region that in turn raises the mortality rate of the vulnerable population.
Planetary Health seeks immediate attention to safeguard the health of the planet and people of the future generation. Development of a climate resilient and environmentally sustainable healthcare system is the need of the hour for the impoverished masses of Sundarbans. This will help them to adapt to alleviate health risks related to climate changes thus reducing healthcare burden, loss of life and causalities.
Climate and social science play a synergistic role contributing to higher chances of survival of the Sundarbans. iKure is also looking at different ways by which the local communities should be pulled out of poverty mostly by empowering women from
different islands of Sundarbans towards raging issues in the field of primary health care. This would help in relieving the pressure on natural resources and promote physical and mental well-being of the inhabitants. Kumirmari, one of the endangered islands of the Sundarbans is the present intervention area of iKure.
iKure, a population health management organisation is coming up with its own living lab set-up at Baruipur that will primarily engage in preventive, promotive and curative aspects of healthcare. It will aim to develop a climate resilient digitally-enabled healthcare system for low-income communities.
An old English proverb says,“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, iKure invites all with open arms to be a part of this transformative change. The voices of the deprived community have been left unheard and ignored for the past few centuries and it is of utmost importance to empower these inhabitants to ensure that the people and nature can strike a balance and thrive together in
iKure welcomes involvement of the local community or collaborative
ecosystems in addressing the looming crisis, making transformative
contributions in the healthcare system and developing a continuum of care for millions.