Kolkata: The growing population of the Sunderbans – the world's largest mangrove forests – is exerting extraordinary pressure on its fragile ecosystem, a World Bank report has said.

The report, "Building Resilience For Sustainable Development of the Sunderbans," was presented at the conclusion of a three-day international workshop in West Bengal last weekend. The findings of the study were made available to the press Monday.

The workshop was organized by the West Bengal Disaster Management department in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund-India and Environment Governed Integrated Organization, or EnGIO.

The study highlighted the prevalence of poor environmental conditions, deterioration of the region's natural resource base and adverse impact of climate change.

"Despite these dismal conditions and endemic poverty, the population is growing and exerting even greater pressure on fragile and recovering natural systems,” the report pointed out.

As a result of high birth rates and migration inflows, population density is high and growing, according to the Non-Lending Technical Assistance household survey, which was part of the study.

The labor force in the Sundarbans has continued to increase and the current population density is estimated to be 1,000 per square kilometer.

Open access to forest and fishery resources attracts poor migrants to the region, as a meal can often be gleaned from local resources, even by people with few skills.

"Population growth, increased degradation of natural resources and widespread prevalence of inefficient practices will likely result in an increasing gap between the local food needs and supply, which could exacerbate malnourishment, particularly in children," it said.

Rice supply will decrease below the required per capita amount if the current population growth rates and agricultural yields continue in the future.

Moreover, assuming continuation of the current diversion of agricultural land towards aquaculture, the gap would widen significantly over the coming years, the study said.

Sunderbans is home to numerous threatened species such as the Royal Bengal tiger and several species of river dolphin.

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