Early on Tuesday morning, more than 20,000 litres of oil was spilled into an estuary within the Bangladesh Sunderbans after an oil tanker collided with another boat. As per recent reports, the oil slick from the spill has spread more than 20 km both upstream and down from its point of origin. Worryingly, the spill continues to spread further. This incident has caused a full-fledged ecological disaster for Bangladesh, with environmental authorities in India reportedly taking precautions along the coastal region in West Bengal.
What makes matter worse for both sides is that cleaning up the spill will be very difficult, considering the complex geographical dynamics of the region. Reports have begun to emerge that the oil spill has caused the deaths of numerous fish, egrets and crabs, besides the threat it could pose to key elements behind the natural regeneration of wetland forests in the Sundarbans, a UNESCO heritage site. However, what caught the national media’s eye has been the dangers this oil spill could pose for the Irrawady dolphins, an endangered species living in the Bangladesh Sunderbans, besides concerns over the fate of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.
Ecologists, however, have suggested that tigers may not be directly affected for the time being because they don’t necessarily survive on the fish found in the region. However, the ecological disaster could have devastating consequences for shrimp farmers, who are among the most economically-backward people in Bangladesh. What makes the disaster all the more tragic is that as per law, oil tankers are not allowed to pass through the Sunderbans sanctuary. Since the main route has been blocked by silt, tankers have continued to use these streams. Bangladeshi authorities have not helped themselves by procrastinating upon the issue for the past three years. Had they acted earlier, such an incident would not have occurred.