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The Financial Express

Climate change stares us in the face


Climate change stares us in the face

Even by the turn of the century, the subject of global warming and the change in climate that scientists claimed it caused was to the average person an academic exercise. Even people of rational mind were of the view that global warming, which is supported by sound scientific reasoning, though probable, is still something remote. Its deleterious impacts may not be visible in their lifetime. Perhaps, even serious scientists, especially, climatologists working in the field, were not expecting to see what they were predicting so long to materialise before their own eyes so soon!

As for instance, were they prepared for the shock in 2003 when a deadly heat wave swept across the otherwise cold Western Europe killing 70,000 people? But it was not a once-in-a-century calamity from nowhere that fortuitously visited upon that part of the world. It was climate change at work. But climate sceptics are everywhere. And one should not be surprised seeing that amid the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, so many people including those holding the highest political office like former US president, Donald Trump, or the incumbent president of Brazil, JairBolsonaro, do not believe there is any pandemic!

But the common people, if they are sceptical about something that science claims that it is true, are at least amenable to change. Unlike the hidebound sceptics, they will readily accept the truth. That is one reason why the people of the most climate-vulnerable countries like Bangladesh are so efficient at facing cataclysmic cyclones, storm surges and floods that recurrently crash against the country's coastal areas.

People now understand that there is nothing superstitious about these natural disasters. They are now mostly aware that climate change is behind these sea-borne tragedies. One would often hear them saying that the pattern of the weather has changed significantly from what they experienced in their younger years. As such, they have also been learning to adapt to the new weather conditions and planning their farming, fishing or such other activities related to their livelihood accordingly. People of the coastal regions have also been experiencing increased level of salinity in their water, agricultural lands and fishing ponds. But they are also fast learning to grow crops that can stand salinity and adjust other day-to-day work to the changed situation.

There is still a bigger threat awaiting the coastal and other low-lying areas of the country, the climatologists predict. It is the rise in sea level due to global warming. Those areas will go under seawater in not-too-distant future and dislodge the population of those areas from their ancestral abode. That would be going to create, in climatologists' term, climate refugees. It is not that the inhabitants of those areas are not already aware of what is in store for them. But until now they are clueless about how soon that bigger calamity is gong to strike. In fact, the people of the coastal and other low-lying areas are not prepared for such eventuality.

The government, with the help of the international community, will have to plan in advance how the would-be victims of sea level rise, the so-called climate refugees, would be rehabilitated. To be frank, the work for such rehabilitation should start now.

But so long the focus of the climate scientists was on large-scale natural phenomena like cyclones/typhoons brewing in the oceans, or wildfires raging across forestlands, droughts or downpours. But of late climate scientists are becoming more aware of the effects of global warming that are impacting on the people's day-to-day lives.

A study conducted by an international team of 70 experts, the findings of which were published in the prestigious British scientific journal Nature, is quite disconcerting. The study reveals that 37 per cent of all the heat-related deaths at 732 locations spread over 43 countries across the globe can be attributed to global warming. Extrapolating the results of this study globally, the conclusion that one would be able to draw is alarming. In fact, that would be more than 100,000 heat-related deaths annually and the culprit, as expected, is global warming. However, the global heat-related death count of over 100,000 according to the above study may be less than the actual figure. The reason is in the calculation the most heat-death-prone regions such south Asia and central Africa were not included.

In an analysis conducted by the Institute of Health Matrices and Evaluations (IHME), a University of Washington-based independent health research centre, it was found that in 2019 some 300,000 people died worldwide and those deaths were attributable to heat-related causes.One can well infer from the result that over one third of those deaths had to do with climate change. In that case, the previous findings of the 70-member international team's study match with the climate change-related deaths inferred from IHME's calculations. What worries one is the fact that one-third of the deaths in IHME's study were from India.

Deaths attributable to rising temperature are an issue of grave concern, especially, at the country's urban centres. And deaths related to heat are not occurring once in a blue moon. On the contrary, it has become part of our regular experience every summer. But what we are, perhaps, not yet aware of is how the phenomenon is affecting us at the moment and how fast the temperatures of our urban centres are rising to render them unfit for living within a few years. A study recently done by researchers from theUniversity of Curtin, Australia, has found that five majors cities of Bangladesh-Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet- will become unliveable within the next few years. Over the past two decades between 2000 and 2019, the temperature of Dhaka, for example, has increased by 2.74 degrees Celsius, compared to the rural areas. Similar rises in temperature have been observed in other major cities, too. Apart from global warming, the main reason for such extraordinary rise in temperatures has been ascribed to high population density, crowded high-rise buildings and lack of environmental governance in those cities.

The government, especially, the city planners, should take urgent measures to decentralise the administration and redistribute the city populations. Satellite towns surrounding bigger cities can be created for the purpose.

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