Climate change cannot be mitigated through discussions alone
Bangladesh is globally known as one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming and climate calamity. It not only affects human development and biodiversity conservation but also poses a threat to human security, with an increased frequency of extreme weather events leading to degrading socio-economic conditions.
Sea-level rise is expected to continue for centuries. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that during the 21st century, sea-levels will rise another 18 to 59cm, but these numbers do not include “uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks” or “the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow.” A sea-level rise of just 400mm in the Bay of Bengal would put 11% of Bangladesh’s coastal land underwater, creating 7-10 million climate refugees.
The variation of humidity, temperature, and rainfall caused by climate change is likely to have ample health consequences. High temperature manipulates the reproduction and survival of infective agents within the vector, thereby further influencing disease diffusion in areas where the vector is previously present. In general, by reducing fresh water supplies, climate alteration affects sanitation and lowers the efficiency of local sewer systems, leading to amplified concentrations of pathogens in unprocessed water supplies. Subsequently, mosquito larvae develop in such places, which may in turn cause mosquito-borne diseases.
Apart from that, numerous diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes (chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever), sand flies (leishmaniasis) and ticks (Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis) may also be amplified by climate alteration. Dengue has lately taken a serious turn in many parts of the country. In Dhaka alone, there were reports of hundreds of people suffering attacks, a majority of whom were hospitalized.
Economic losses will increase by threefold to a cumulative $129 billion -- and as high as $5.1 billion per year under more pessimistic climate scenarios -- with economic losses rising in later years. Based on this model, the southern coastal regions and the northwestern regions are expected to experience the largest income declines. IPCC estimates that, in Bangladesh, production of rice and wheat might drop by 8% and 32%, respectively, by the year 2050.
The degradation of the quality of the urban environment is a consequence of economic activities which affect the environment, sanitation security, and public health, either directly or indirectly.
Every day, thousands of people migrate to the cities after being affected by landlessness, impoverishment, employment contraction among the poor and marginalized, river erosion, and natural calamities. In general, the urban poor live in slums and low-income settlements. Many who cannot afford to live in slum dwellings live on the streets.
They suffer from non-sanitary latrines, unhygienic garbage disposal, and impure water supply. No sanitation is safe when covered by flood waters, as fecal matter mixes with flood waters and spreads everywhere the flood water goes. In Dhaka, which has a piped sewage network, only 2% of fecal load is treated.
In reality, human health depends on an adequate supply of potable water. By reducing fresh water supplies, climate change affects sanitation and lowers the efficiency of local sewer systems, leading to concentrations of pathogens in unprocessed water supplies.
The unforeseen increase in extreme rainfall events, which is associated with outbreaks of diarrheal disease, may overwhelm the public water supply system. The poor, who are environmentally or agriculturally displaced and live in urban areas, have no capacity, education, or financial aptitude to fight against this climate-induced health insecurity.
Scientists predict that, due to tropical cyclones and salinity intrusion into farming lands in coastal areas, environmental refugees will exceed 20 million in the future. As a result, their demand for land, water, employment, and other public services generate conflict with local residents.
Some foreign and local alliances -- WHO, IPCC, Bangladesh poribesh andolon, Bangladesh environment network, Bangladesh environmental lawyers association -- believe that climate change cannot be mitigated through discussions. To reduce the climatic impacts, we have to take financial initiatives, share adaptive technology, and increase awareness to reduce carbon use.
What is critical now is to move away from producing “papers and reports,” and towards investing human, material, and financial resources on the issues at the places where climate change is having an impact, for a collective and sustainable Bangladesh.
Shishir Reza is an environmental analyst and Matiur Rahman is a research consultant, Human Development Research centre, Dhaka.