Climate change is not a matter we can afford to put off
In some places, the impact of climate change is already observable. In others, scientists predict the occurrence of climate change based on intricate mathematical and computer models.
But in Bangladesh, it is already happening now, at a scale that involves unmatched natural and human tragedy. Natural calamities which used to happen every 20 years, now recur once every five years.
Being one of the most vulnerable nations to global climate change, it is frequently visited by natural catastrophes such as tropical cyclones, storm rushes, downpours, droughts, hurricanes, and so on. Superimposed on these disastrous events, climate change is likely to add fuel to the fire.
More frequent storm rushes and tougher cyclones often drive a body of water 50 to 60 miles up the delta’s rivers. The latest devastating flood of 2016 that washed away nearly the whole country was caused by heavy rainfalls as well as water flow from the upstream hills in India, and has led to the inundation of the river basin areas, especially in the northern parts of Bangladesh, leaving a large number of people helpless, homeless, and dead.
With these natural calamities also come increased health hazards. Heat waves are increasing the suffering of many more vulnerable people, spreading diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
Air pollution from fossil fuel burning is also producing millions of early deaths each year, while destruction of harvests from extreme weather threatens hunger for millions of children. A World Food Program (WFP) report says that by 2050, climate change is expected to increase the number of hungry people by 10% to 20%, and the number of malnourished children is expected to increase by 24 million — 21% more than without the effects of climate change.
Flood risks in Bangladesh
Riverbank erosion, in recent years, has yearly displaced between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The population of “immediately threatened” islands, previously called “chars,” exceeds four million. As soon as chars wash away, the process of deposition creates new chars downstream because of the dynamic nature of riverine Bangladesh.
Land is so unstable and the population so condensed, that displaced people often try to settle on these new, irregular, highly unstable sand bars. A report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and peer reviewed by 25 scientists worldwide says that in Bangladesh, 40% of productive land is projected to be lost in the southern region for a 65cm sea level rise by the 2080s.
About 20 million people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are already affected by salinity in drinking water. Regarding rising sea levels, The Guardian report quotes Saleemul Huq, director of ICCCAD: “In the next 20 years, we would expect five to 10 million people to have to move from the coastal areas. The whole country is a climate hotspot, but the most vulnerable area is the coast.”
Natural calamities which used to happen every 20 years, now recur once every five years
It is not just people who are affected. The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, a World Heritage Site and shelter to the iconic Royal Bengal Tiger, lie on the delta of the Ganges River in Bangladesh and India.
Across coastal Bangladesh, the rise of the sea level — worsened by the conversion of mangrove forest for agricultural production, shrimp farming, and local businesses — has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of mangroves.
Accordingly, the number of tigers has plummeted. The prediction of World Wildlife Fund says that the tiger may become extinct. Bangladesh is on the way to lose one of its last natural defenses against climate change-induced super-storms.
We can turn it around
But the outlook is changing. Bangladesh has progressively developed country-wide capacity to address climate change impacts. The country has invested more than $10 billion in climate change actions, which include increasing the capability of government agencies to respond to emergencies, augmenting the capacity of communities to increase their resilience through Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), and some prominent mitigation measures playing a vital role.
Apart from these, building emergency cyclone shelters and resilient accommodation, firming up river embankments and coastal polders, and reducing salinity intrusion are some of the practices of the initiatives developed by the government of Bangladesh in consultation with civil society.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government established a $400 million “Climate Change Trust Fund” in 2009 from its own resources.
Though Bangladesh is saturated with initiatives and projects related to climate change, it is still facing the tragic consequences which prove again and again that climate change is happening now.
So, funding, capacity, and technology at a national level must be accessible in order to implement approaches that effectively address and create a more resilient Bangladesh.
Shooha Tabil is a freelance contributor.