EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN BANGLADESH

By Sofia Rodrigues & Vincent Lyn

Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.

Millions of years ago the earth was very different from what it is today. Ten thousand years ago, we entered the Neolithic revolution, many experts would consider this period a miracle. Opposite to other times, through The Holocene, the earth’s temperatures stabilized, which resulted in stable sea levels, the possibility of growing food, clean water, fresh air to breathe, and more importantly, it allowed civilization. Humans depend on this stabilization, and with them all the activities, our modern world. Recently scientists declared the end of the Holocene and the beginning of the Anthropocene where humans are responsible for the earth’s changes.

What caused this new epoch on earth history?

Since the industrial revolution, the overexploitation of the ground has risen uncontrollably. And by that, the emissions of pollutant gases resulted in the raising temperature by more than one degree. Glaciers have a crucial role in maintaining global temperature. They reflect the sun’s heat by ninety to ninety-five percent. But with the unmanageable heat, the glaciers are melting. The consequences are beyond scary.

Every second, Greenland loses ten thousand cubic meters of ice. If Greenland melted completely, the sea levels would rise by seven meters all over the world. If both east and west of Antarctica were to melt, sea levels would rise by more than fifty-five meters. These statistics show that hundreds of coastal cities are threatened by floods if not for completely disappearing.

What would be the consequences for the coastal population? And to other populations affected by climate change?

As predicted, numerous people lost their houses and started being a part of a group of refugees, climate refugees. Climate refugees by definition are people that are forced to abandon their houses as a result of the effects of climate change on their environment. Many countries are at risk to the catastrophic effects of climate change, but Bangladesh has been facing the worst effects for years. Bangladesh is small, but its densely populated cities are home to over 160 million people. Decades of increasingly more severe storms, catastrophic flooding, and relentless land erosion is causing this already small nation to disappear. While the country was no stranger to harsh weather, now because of climate change, these once manageable storms are wreaking havoc and changing weather patterns, leaving them underprepared. The emissions of greenhouse gases by the rest of the world is putting the lives of Bangladeshi citizens at risk. And it’s only expected to get worse.

Bangladesh’s sea level is projected to rise 1.5 meters by 2050, submerging nearly a fifth of their land and expected to displace millions of people. But Bangladeshis are already being displaced. The increase in storms is pushing more water inland. In 2016, Cyclone Roanu caused disastrous landslides. That same year, three more cyclones formed in the Bay of Bengal. In 2017, monsoon season started weeks earlier than usual and the country faced some of the worst flooding in their history — leaving residents with no time to prepare. Thousands of homes and rice crops were destroyed, and families were left struggling to afford food. Two years later, Cyclone Bulbul swept the country, forcing over 2 million people into cyclone shelters. And then in May 2020, Cyclone Amphan became the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal. It killed 118 people across the Bengal region and left nearly half a million people homeless. This damage is just the beginning.

Climate change is tipping the country like a row of dominoes. The storms are damaging crops, leading to food shortages, which is also adding to the growing migration crisis. A large portion of those being forced to move are farmers. Millions of people in Bangladesh rely on rice farming for food and income. Rising sea levels are bringing salt water into crop lands, rendering the soil no longer viable. Salt water contamination is also affecting the drinking water sources of nearly 33 million people, leaving them more vulnerable to health problems such as hypertension, pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, cardiovascular diseases, and can also increase infant mortality. All these factors have caused the World Bank to predict 13 million people, mainly from coastal communities, will be forced to move towards the center of the country by 2050. Farmers and coastal residents head towards city regions like Dhaka, located in the heart of Bangladesh. But with a growing population twice the size of New York City and numerous infrastructure challenges like limited resources and funding, Dhaka cannot handle the mass of migrants seeking shelter every year. In order to avoid these issues, some migrants have to abandon their homeland and head across the border into India. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Bangladeshi migrants are already residing illegally. However, with growing anti-immigration tensions rising and depleting resources, the situation could become violent.The basic understanding of the ongoing climate change crisis within a Bangladeshi household, is a mix pot of ideas and knowledge which is mostly influenced by the Western media. These ideas often overlook the pressing impacts that had moulded the country’s climate change impacts throughout the years. Although it is admirable that most people do understand the idea of the climate crisis in the year 2021, one cannot overlook the more pressing problems and the intricate connections which usually gets overlooked, especially in the homes of Bangladesh.

Besides the obvious effects of climate change, the intricate connection that, to this day, is going unnoticed and unnamed is the ongoing water crisis. As most of us know, only 3 percent of the world’s water is fresh and use-able (National Geographic, 2012); of which two-thirds is captured in polar ice and glaciers. Water and weather — a tricky balance of evaporation and precipitation, is the primary cycle through which the effects of climate change are seen and felt. As our climate changes little by little every day, droughts, floods, melting glaciers, sea-level rise and storms intensify or adjust, often with severe consequences. These consequences are sensed widely in regions with pre-existing vulnerability such as in the country of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh being the ninth most vulnerable country in the world feels the effects of climate change on water in the gravest manner. This is because the riverine nation has a close relationship between its water and water resources to their climatic factors which directly increases their risk and vulnerability to climate disasters and its effects. If we take on a more technical approach to understanding the severity of the problem, it is necessary to mention that during the pre- and post-monsoon season the temperature in the country has been observed to increase by more than two-thirds of the atmospheric stations, particularly in the coastal areas. More than 80 percent of the locations in the country are showing a rising trend in temperature because of this. On the other hand, the highest recorded rainfall for any month in the capital for a 24-hour period was 341mm in September 2004 however, recently 448 mm rainfall was recorded during 24 hours in Dhaka on 27 July 2019, which was the highest rainfall in the history of the city Tide gauge measurements and more recently satellite altimeter studies show a definite increase of sea level change.

It is evident that because of climate change the water sector of Bangladesh is suffering greatly however, the question is by how much? According to the National Adaptation Programme of Action of Bangladesh report, the water related effects of environmental change will probably be the most impactful for the country of Bangladesh — generally identified coastal and riverine flooding, but also enhanced the possibility of winter (dry season) drought in certain areas. The impacts of increased flooding as an outcome of climate change will be the core issue faced by the country. Both coastal flooding (from ocean and stream water), and inland flooding (waterway/river-way/rainwater) are expected to further increase. Almost all the expected collisions on the water resources will become more prominent due to the lack of infrastructure developments throughout the country — for example, the expansion of the road communication networks, and the construction of flood protection works.

Besides technical risks and impacts of climate change and water in Bangladesh, there remains the greater resultant of this issue on the economy and society of the nation. Climate change in Bangladesh has proven to have, direct impact, in the nation’s extreme poverty level. Different studies show that in Bangladesh, the sectors which are predicted to be the most affected by changes in water and water resources are agriculture, health, fisheries, biodiversity, and infrastructure. Since Bangladesh is falling under the Least Developed Country (LDC) category, it still relies heavily on its primary sectors — which, according to these studies, are most affected by climate and water disasters. This directly in turn affects the earnings and livelihoods of the mass individuals working in these fields within the country and impacts the GDP and thereby reduces the overall economic growth of the country.

If we take a more personal approach in understanding the lengths of effects of this disaster within the Bangladesh culture, we can now consider the story of Rubina. Rubina, a fifteen-year-old girl lived on the outskirts of Mymensingh. Her family consisted of her mother, her maternal grandmother, and her little three-year-old sister. Her mother was divorced and worked hard in Dhaka city for a living. Rubina lived with her grandmother and took care of her sister, which prevented her from continuing her education after fourth standard. However, education was not the only barrier she faced. Rubina’s family did not have proper water facilities. Her water source came from a nearby pond that was contaminated with high arsenic. This resulted in severe health issues for both Rubina and her family. However, Rubina was the one most affected. Along with having, bad stomach infection, her skin broke out and different forms of allergies became her daily companion. Neighbors prevented their children from playing with her, shops refused to sell goods to her in the fear of touching her contaminated hand and lastly, Rubina’s grandmother soon started to worry that no man would ever love her granddaughter. She started to be termed as ‘unholy’ or ‘cursed’ by the villagers. At this point, we must stop and ask, who is at fault here? The villagers and their narrow mindset? Rubina and her innocent family? The water management facilities in these regions? Or is it mother nature herself?

Although there are problems which are being addressed, solutions are being prioritized as well. While communities are at the frontlines of climate change impacts (just like Rubina and her family), they rarely have an effective voice in prioritizing, decision-making, and implementing the actions that most affect them. The Global Commission on Adaptation flagship report has asked to decentralize funding available to local governments, community-based organizations, and others working at the local level to identify risks and prioritizing problems that are often gone unanswered so that a much-needed call for action is addressed for the least vulnerable. The locally led adaptation track for water aims in prioritize mobilizing of governments and experts to concentrate on giving priority to the water sector, so that families like Rubina’s do not have to suffer physically and emotionally.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)