Institute for Social and Economic Change

Working Paper: 496

Livelihood and Social Capital in Vulnerable Ecosystems:
A Case Study from Indian Sundarbans

Sneha Biswas
Sunil Nautiyal



Indian Sundarbans, situated on the eastern coast of India, is exposed to threats like floods, cyclones and sea level rise. People living in this environmentally vulnerable area have to depend upon various response and adaptive strategies against these perils. Social capital and seasonal migration are two such measures. Social capital plays a crucial role in everyday life, particularly in crisis situations. This paper attempts to understand the role of social capital (relationship with neighbours, civil organisations and the local government in particular) in adapting to environmental and livelihood vulnerabilities in the study area. A survey was conducted in 200 households through geographical clustering from four villages of Indian Sundarbans (Madhya Gurguria, Debipur, Satjelia and Rangabelia) through a structured questionnaire and two Focus Group Discussions with farmers and the fishing community. Analysis of secondary data reveals historical evidence of the prevalence of cyclonic and flood events in the area. It was also found that the physical damage caused by these events is exacerbated by the area’s bleak socio-economic conditions. The results indicated that at the advent of any natural calamity, it is the neighbours and community people who provide shelter, food and financial support to each other before the arrival of any external support. Seasonal migration became an adaptation strategy for many households (78%) but the opposite picture exists too. Even after threats to their lives and livelihood and despite the government showing a willingness to relocate millions of inhabitants, a majority of the people (61%) of the area are reluctant to leave the place which they refer to as ‘bhite’.

Working Papers