The theme for World Environment Day this year is “Connecting with nature.” In Bangladesh, people and nature are very closely linked, if not integrated, as there are very few areas of the country that are untouched by human activities, not even in the deepest of the Sundarbans or the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The challenge here is for humans to live in harmony with their respective natural surroundings, depending on where they are located in the country.
The potential adverse impacts of climate change that we are feeling and seeing already, and which will get more severe over time, are also very dependent on the ecosystem.
The first and biggest natural ecosystem is the mangroves of the Sundarbans -- the largest mangrove forest in the world and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The major climate change impact is and will be a sea level rise, leading to shifts in species of trees and fauna within the ecosystem, some of which we are seeing already.
The forests in Chittagong Hill Tracts are some of the most pristine natural ecosystems Bangladesh has to offer, at least those which have not yet been fully decimated by human settlements and felling of trees. The climate change impacts here are likely to be greater landslides as well as run-off from streams.
Low lying haor basin in the north-east of the country, another important ecosystem, is flooded during the monsoon period every year. This is no longer a fully natural habitat, as humans have been occupying them for long. Nevertheless, the traditional patterns of human livelihoods of fishing in the monsoon seasons and growing a crop in the dry seasons were well adapted to the natural ecosystem.
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The main climate change impact is the change in flooding patterns which will make growing crops more difficult. We have seen an example this year of what can happen when floods come earlier than expected.
The fourth major natural systems are the major rivers, namely the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna, and their respective flood plains, along with their many tributaries and distributaries around the country.
The most human interference have been made here by trying to embank many of the rivers and hence, have also altered the natural riverine ecosystems. The climate change impact in these cases is that river flows will become more erratic and thus, unpredictable. This may result in more flooding in the monsoon periods followed by more droughts in the dry seasons, especially in the Barind Tract in the north-western part of Bangladesh.
The coastal zone of the country can also be considered as a low-lying delta ecosystem along with offshore islands, and here we are already seeing the impacts of sea level rise due to climate change in salinity intrusion that is taking place along the coast, affecting both biota and humans.
Finally, we need to consider cities and towns, where millions of people live. The major environmental hazard faced by people in cities and towns is flooding caused by drainage congestion along with pollution. Here, we cannot blame climate change as the major cause of these particular problems -- the ways in which we have blocked the drainage channels and failed to enforce laws against pollution is our own fault.
The people of Bangladesh are culturally and historically very well attuned to connecting and living with nature, but perhaps as some result of modernisation, we may be losing that connection.
It is to be hoped that the potential threat of adverse impacts of climate change will enable us to go back to our love and protection of our natural ecosystems and surroundings. We therefore need to promote ecosystem-based adaptation in each of the country's major ecosystems.
Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at Independent University, Bangladesh