Preparedness against sea-level rise

Md. Badrul Islam | Published: January 06, 2016 22:44:19 | Updated: October 22, 2017 03:03:34


It is well-known that Bangladesh is situated in a disaster-prone area. It is located in the southern hemisphere and is called a riverine country since there are around 230 rivers in a small land of 147,570 square kilometres. Historically Bangladesh is familiar with frequent floods, drought, soil erosion and saltwater intrusion. Sea level rise over the last decades has made the situation worse for low-lying coastal areas. The effects of sea level rise on Bangladesh will be devastating since it is a deltaic country where river systems lead to the ocean.  
The UNDP report titled "Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development" has found that Bangladesh is most vulnerable to tropical cyclones and is the sixth most vulnerable country to floods. Bangladesh experienced natural disasters like cyclone in 1991, floods in 1998, cyclone Sidr in 2007 and cyclone Aila in 2009. All these natural disasters caused heavy casualties. For example, according to government information, households affected by cyclone Sidr were 2.3 million of which 1 million were seriously affected. Total number of deaths was 3,406 while 1001 were missing and over 55000 people were physically injured. Total loss was worth Tk.115.6 billion.   
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted in its fourth assessment report that melting Himalayan glaciers and increasing monsoon rainfall across South East Asia will result in inflated water volumes in rivers that flow into Bangladesh from China, Nepal, Bhutan and India. In spite of being protected by a 5,107km long network of flood embankments, low-lying southern coastal regions remain as most vulnerable since almost half of these embankments was damaged by recent Sidr and Aila.
Slight rise in sea-level can have a dramatic impact on the coastal people of Bangladesh. If sea level rises, most of the people will be compelled to relocate themselves. But the question remains, where will they relocate themselves as Bangladesh is a small land with 165.8 million people. Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan which was published by the Ministry of Environment in 2009 predicts that if sea levels rise, around 20 million people could be displaced and become refugees of climatic change within next 50 years. In the case of large countries like China and India, the majority of affected people will migrate internally. In case of Bangladesh and Vietnam, the affected people will try to move to neighbouring countries (India in case of Bangladesh and China in case of Vietnam).  Some migration links have been established for the Vietnamese with relatives in the United States. But Bangladesh has no such links. 
Along with population displacement, farmland especially rice lands in the coastal areas will be lost to the sea. According to UK Royal Society, a one-metre sea level rise could flood 17 per cent area of Bangladesh along side displacing tens of millions of people and reducing its rice-farming land by 50 per cent. That is not all. Around 1 million people in the coastal region are engaged in fishing and fisheries business will be badly affected if sea level rises. Fisheries will perish into the sea as a result of which 1.0 million people will be unemployed. Rise in sea level will also result in salinisation of aquifers and soils, coastal erosion, birds and other wildlife animals and plants. Nearly half of the rice production in monsoon in the areas of coastal region will also be affected. Experts are already raising concerns about the increasing intensity and frequency of tropical storms in the Bay of Bengal.
Effects of sea-level rise in Bangladesh are no longer a possibility - it is already a reality for us. Comprehensive and practical strategies like coastal afforestation projects, cyclone shelters, improved disaster deterrence measures, upgraded forecasting and warning system, and extensive embankment system should be undertaken by government and non-governmental organisations NGOs). Most importantly, Bangladesh which is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise does not have enough resources to increase its capacity to manage the effects of sea-level rise. It will have to attach more priority to climate change negotiations in the international forums and raise  voice along with other vulnerable countries to acquire sophisticated technologies and financial assistance from the developed countries which are mainly responsible for this situation. 
The writer is a Research Assistant, Refugee and  Migratory Movements 
Research Unit (RMMRU). 
badrul_51@yahoo.com
 

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