Today, Bangladesh tops the list of economies most at risk from the impacts of climate change. These are the findings of the “2014 Climate Change Vulnerability Index” which evaluates 193 countries under increased threat from the physical impacts of more frequent and extreme climate related events such as severe storms, flooding, or droughts.
This index is not the first to identify Bangladesh as a hot spot of climate risk. The “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience” report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics says the world is on track to get warmer by 4°C this century unless urgent and concerted actions are taken.
Cognisant of these challenges, the government of Bangladesh put in place the “Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan” (BCCSAP) to reduce climate risk and cope with the unavoidable impacts. This 10-year program aims to build local capacity and resilience to combat climate change – an effort that will require a significant amount of resources.
In putting BCCSAP into practice, as a first step, the government established the “Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund” (BCCRF) in 2010. This is an innovative partnership between the Bangladeshi government, seven development partners (UK, USA, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the European Union, and Switzerland) and the World Bank.
“Turn Down the Heat” confirms that a warming of 2°C can be reached within 20-30 years. The risks from higher temperatures, rising sea level, and changed patterns of river flows and rainfall can coalesce into catastrophic impacts on agriculture, human health, settlements, and infrastructure. Economies are poised to suffer and the poor and vulnerable will bear the brunt of these devastating events. That is why as a first response, with the help of the development partners, the BCCRF is supporting initiatives that will prepare Bangladesh to take action.
The report highlights a series of risks that Bangladesh could face. The first is the risk that higher and warmer seas could result in tropical storms of greater intensity and impact. In 2007, the world saw first-hand how Cyclone Sidr inundated a vast tract of Bangladesh’s coasts, inflicting losses equal to 2.6% of the GDP.
If a cyclone like Sidr were to take place in 2050, the damages would be more staggering than if it hit today: 88%of more land would be inundated and 9.7 million people would be exposed to severe floods more than 3 meters deep. As on step to help Bangladesh cope with this threat, the BCCRF is supporting the construction of 61 multipurpose cyclone shelters and 11.5 kilometers of emergency roads.
The second risk is that of prolonged dry spells and increased groundwater stress. Under the 4°C scenario, northern Bangladesh could shift to a new climatic regime with high temperatures above levels seen in the past 100 years. To prepare communities for the possibilities of flood, drought, and saltwater intrusion, the BCCRF, through local NGOs, is working in 49 sub-districts to support community-based activities such as homestead plinth rising, elevating shelters for livestock, reparation and strengthening of flood shelters, and the planting of drought-tolerant fodder.
In greater Dhaka, the BCCRF is helping to assess flood risk and response options through analysis and advice.
A third risk is that climate change will affect the food security of one of the world’s most densely populated nations. A warming of 4°C would severely threaten crops, especially the rice grown during annual monsoons.BCCRF is responding by preparing farmers with better seed choices and warning systems. It is also helping build modern silos for the storage of food grains for emergencies.
A fourth risk is that a climate change could put a strain on public health. Today, 43% of Bangladeshi children have low height-for-age due to under nutrition— one of the highest rates in the world. A warming of not even 2°C by 2050 could increase by 62% the incidence of children suffering from severe malnutrition. As a result, the BCCRF is conducting a study to assess and guide for emerging health risks.
Compared to other countries, Bangladesh is a small greenhouse gas emitter, but it stands to benefit significantly from efforts to reduce emissions. For example, with financing from the BCCRF, solar-powered water pumps are helping farmers replace diesel to save 6,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, and avoid toxic air pollution. The BCCRF is also supporting an initiative that helps communities in nine districts to protect and grow forests, take carbon out of the atmosphere, and provide a natural buffer to high intensity storms.
By taking action today, Bangladesh is taking charge of its future and building the resilience of current and next generations to weather the impact of climate change.