Climate Report: Rising Seas Could Displace 1.3M Bangladeshis

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Climate Report: Rising Seas Could Displace 1.3M Bangladeshis Bangladeshis wait for a ferry in the nearly submerged Manpura island in the Bhola district at the mouth of the Meghna River near the Bay of Bengal. Aug. 22, 2018.

More than 1 million people will be displaced from low-lying areas along Bangladesh’s southern coast as sea levels rise, experts predict, although encroaching waters have already forced thousands to uproot permanently from their seaside homes.

Bangladesh is especially susceptible to sea-level rise because it is a low-lying country crisscrossed with rivers and already experiences frequent flooding during the summer monsoon season, a new study by the American Geophysical Union said. The study, based on mathematical models, predicts that 1.3 million people will be displaced by the year 2050.

“According to the new model, the districts in the south along the Bay of Bengal will be the first to be impacted by sea-level rise, causing a migration that will ripple across the country and affect all 64 districts. Some migrants will likely be rejected by the existing residents – or displace them – triggering further migrations,” said the report published in late March.

Climate-related migration has already started, said the chief executive of the Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network, a Khulna-based NGO, citing a study done by his organization in 2009.

“Our study finds at least 124,000 people temporarily and an additional 15,600 people permanently migrated from greater Khulna district in Southwest Bangladesh and some parts of greater Barisal districts,” Hasan Mehedi told BenarNews. “They ended up in Khulna city, Satkhira town, Jessore town, Chittagong city and the Chittagong Hill Tracts,” he told BenarNews on Friday.

Sea water has destroyed cultivable lands, he said.

“You can only see saline water fields and shrimp ponds. Shrimp cultivation is not labor intensive,” he said. “Another big problem is the crisis of sweet and drinking water. The sea water has contaminated both surface and groundwater.

“Many areas of the southwestern part have already gone under sea water. The frequency of the cyclones and other disasters has intensified,” Hasan said.

The United States Geological Survey, a government agency, noted the role of climate change in exacerbating disasters.

“With increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop.

“More heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical storms,” it said.

Climate summit

During a virtual climate change summit hosted by the United States last month, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her nation’s concern, and was joined by the Philippines and Indonesia, in urging developed economies to make good on a 2009 pledge of $100 billion per year to support emerging nations.

Bangladesh spends about $5 billion, or about 2.5 percent of its GDP, on adaptation to climate change and resilience-building measures, Hasina said.

“Focus is needed on the green economy and carbon-neutral technologies with provision of technology transfer among nations,” said Hasina, the current chairwoman of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of 48 countries considered the most threatened by climate change.

Ziaul Haque, a director at the government’s Department of Environment, said the Paris Agreement had recognized the issue of internal displacement and migration induced by climate change and sea-level rise.

“Bangladesh has been facing this consequence because of the increased level of carbon emissions of developed countries. As soon as the developed economies cut carbon emissions we would get rid of the dangers, inundation of our coastal land would stop,” said Haque, who has represented Bangladesh at United Nations climate talks since 2006.

“In Bangladesh, the coastal southwestern region would be the first to be victimized by the rising sea as the region is hardly two meters above sea level. Climate-induced internal migration and displacements have been taking place already,” he told BenarNews.

Bangladeshis walk along a flooded road in Dhaka, July 22, 2020. [BenarNews]

Hafiz Khan, chief of Dhaka-based NGO Center for Climate Justice, told BenarNews that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (Loss and Damage Committee) had formed a task force in 2015 to determine how climate affects migration.

The task force, he said, submitted a report to the committee.

“But the developed countries and the affected countries have not been able to come to a consensus on the mechanism to deal with the climate-induced migration and displacement,” Khan told BenarNews.

“We have to be very vocal on the issue of climate-induced migration and displacement, which would take place in Bangladesh and other affected countries and the small island states. The developed countries must shoulder the responsibilities of these hapless people,” he said.

Nurul Quadir, who represents Bangladesh on the Loss and Damage committee, said Dhaka played a key role on the issue’s inclusion in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

“Our country is hardly five meters (16 feet) above sea level. So, sea level rise would inundate much of our coastal land – this is a reality,” he told BenarNews.

“The people living in those areas would take refuge at the slums in different cities. In the future, this climate induced internal migration and displacement would be our big challenge,” he said.

Bhola Slum

In the Pallabi neighborhood of Dhaka, at least 10,000 families from Ilishya in southern Bhola district – the only island district in Bangladesh – have set up a shantytown called the Bhola Slum.

The slum’s residents moved to the nation’s capital after the Meghna River covered their homesteads, near where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.

“Thousands of people from Ilishya and other coastal districts live in this Bhola slum. The Meghna washed away our homesteads. The people continue to come to Dhaka every day,” Md Mizan, 40, who now works as a fish hawker, told BenarNews.

“Many people are going to Chittagong and other parts of Dhaka, too. Unless river erosion stops, people will continue to come to Dhaka,” he said.

Ainun Nishat, a leading climate researcher and environmentalist, said rising sea levels would leave thousands of people in Bangladesh’s coastal areas homeless.

He said he expected that some nations, including Sweden and Australia, would accept some of those displaced by the sea.

“But developed countries would not agree to take climate refugees from densely populated countries like Bangladesh. This is the problem,” he said. “We have to raise our voices.”


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