Climate Displacement in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh has among the highest death rates in the world from the hazards of tornadoes, strongwind, lightning, and hail. Current technology provides ineffective warning and communication.Social vulnerability to hazards is high due to poverty, weak housing, illiteracy, and lack ofemergency services. Four steps are proposed to reduce risks from severe local storms in Bangladesh. Install Doppler radar to detect storms, train meteorologists, and developmethods to convey warnings to villages and residents. Develop severe local storm educationmaterials with text and visual information about storms and storm safety. Distribute these toschool children and in billboards, posters, and through emerging technologies such as mobile phones. Construct household-level Bangladesh Ono Storm Shelters in a targeted communityand monitor their acceptance and use. Ensure that women are represented at equal numbers tomen in the education and decision-making for severe local storm reduction and recovery.

CAKED in sweat and slime, Mohamed Abdul Wozad pauses for breath before heaving another basket of river mud on his head, and starting up the slippery path towards the embankment above. A lifetime resident of Gabura Island in southwest Bangladesh, Wozad lives at the battlefront of global climate change, a 28sq km patch of damp earth clasped in the estuarine fingers of Bangladesh’s sprawling river network.

Bangladesh squeezes its roughly 160 million population into an area one-sixth the size of NSW. More than 80 per cent of those people survive on less than $US2 ($2.28) per day; many under constant threat from floods, droughts and cyclones. Together with the Maldives and a few other island states, Bangladesh tops virtually every index of countries most vulnerable to climate change. Experts say Gabura Island and the surrounding areas are the worst affected. In recent years it has been made a poster child by activists, who paint many of the country’s problems as the rotten fruit of Western greed.

“Climate change is not causing anything new, but the frequency and intensity are increasing,” says Ainun Nishat, formerly Bangladesh’s representative at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and now vice-chancellor of BRAC University in Dhaka. “There were massive floods in 1988, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2007. Statistically, the 1988 flood was a hundred-year event, but in 1995 and 2000 the water levels were similar [to 1988], and in 2004 they exceeded the 1988 level.”

Bangladeshi scientists say crops are failing in northern parts of the country due to changing weather patterns and, farther south, storms and sea-level rise are destroying property and contaminating arable land with salt. Environmental groups, who blame anthropogenic global warming, argue that if these problems worsen they could trigger catastrophic migration, even though migration experts are sceptical about such claims. In practice, however, it is very difficult to identify the effects of climate change among a welter of other possible causes; far less prove the link between local problems and global emissions.

“It is not yet clear whether these are long-term trends, but our observations on the ground match predictions based on IPCC climate change science, and we are using this as a proxy indicator that climate change is happening in Bangladesh,” says Mozaharul Alam, research fellow at the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies. “The major indications of climate change have come in the past 10 to 15 years, but the locals would say they have begun to observe unusual events over the past five to 10 years. If we really want to claim these problems are due to climate change we need more analysis and more longitudinal data.”

Sources: Risk Factors and Social Vulnerability, Displacement solutions

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