A quarter of the world’s population resides around the Bay of Bengal, a region on the very frontlines of the climate crisis. For local communities, devastating cyclones and floods are a way of life, even as sea levels continue to rise and previously fertile delta soils turn saline.
The most vulnerable bear the harsh brunt of these impacts, even as wealthy nations continue to drive emissions. This inequality has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this context, trusted, clear, timely and actionable information on the risks associated with climate change has never been more urgent.
Through the Bay of Bengal Climate Resiliency Initiative, EJN focused on boosting climate reporting in the region, with generous support from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund. The four-year project, concluded at the end of 2021.
Despite the disruption posed by the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years, as part of this project, from 2017-2021, EJN:
- Analyzed the media landscape within the region.
- Produced 337 stories, between story grants, media grants and workshop participants.
- Trained 425 journalists, through in-person workshops, webinars, and via sub-grantees.
- Awarded 11 sub-grants.
- Extended 12 Fellowships to climate summits.
Notably, grantees began to build a body of work highlighting the linkages between human health and climate change – a little-understood and under-reported connection that demands further attention from the public and policymakers. For instance, Pawanjot Kaur’s multimedia story explores the relationship between storm surges and rising cases of women’s illnesses in two fishing villages in the Bay of Bengal. Aishwarya Mohanty’s story reveals how women’s health suffers during natural calamities such as cyclones in Odisha, in the absence of proper sanitation facilities and menstrual health education.
“There is a silent epidemic of diseases, especially among women, in coastal communities because people are forced to use water that is getting increasingly saline, as the sea rises due to climate change. Women suffer more because they spend hours partially submerged in brackish water. It is affecting their reproductive systems, skin and blood pressure. The biggest achievement of this project was to bring this to the notice of policymakers through a series of media reports produced with EJN funding and mentorship,” said Joydeep Gupta, EJN’s India manager and director of the Third Pole Project.
Journalists working in partnership with EJN have gone beyond reporting on environmental challenges to tell stories about how people are responding. We evaluated more than 200 stories on resilience that local reporters produced with EJN support to find some of the best examples of solutions journalism from the region: communities planting mangroves to shore up islands, restoring a beach, installing artificial reefs, and more.
Journalists who were awarded grants as part of the project went on to win awards. Namrata Acharya’s story on tiger widows won the Cushrow Irani Prize for Environmental Reporting and Sharada Balasubramanian won India’s prestigious Prem Bhatia award for environmental and development reporting, which included her EJN-supported work on climate-resilient farming in the Andaman Islands.
Many stories contributed to real change on the ground. A three-part report by grantee S.V. Krishna Chaitanya spurred the central environment ministry as well as the state government of Tamil Nadu to restore mangroves along the coast. In Odisha, journalist Priya Ranjan Sahu’s coverage of a displaced coastal community helped hasten the state’s efforts at rehabilitation.
An independent assessment of the Bay of Bengal project carried out by the Center for Media Studies (CMS) found the project had significant impacts on policy and the conversation related to climate change impacts along the coastline. “These are opportunities that provide logistic[al] support to local reporters or freelancers who otherwise do not get any funding for publishing a well-researched story… Beside capacity building of participant journalists, such workshops also had ripple effect on non-participant journalists from different parts of the country... Chief reporters and chief news editors who earlier did not assign importance or were not interested to take up stories on climate change are now willing to allot space in their newspapers to such reports for discourses on climate change.”
Building on EJN’s 17 years of experience supporting environmental journalists and media networks in Asia, this project deepened our commitment to the region by strengthening existing ties and forging new partnerships with people and organizations committed to building climate resiliency in India and Bangladesh.
Read more about the project here.
Banner image: Residents onboard a ferry heading to Ghoramara Island in the Sundarbans / Credit: Rajeev Bhatt.