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Bangladesh’s Biggest Gift is its Biggest Curse

When looking at Bangladesh’s geography, one will notice that it is mostly surrounded by water. In fact, 77% of land of Bangladesh touches a body of water, and it has rivers running through it like veins in a body. This was hugely beneficial to Bangladesh when it gained  its independence in 1972, enabling it to produce and distribute goods and food throughout the densely populated country. When travelling in any direction from the main city of Dhaka, a short drive will welcome you to fields of greenery. In fact, the prominent color of green in its national flag represents the verdant, fertile land Bangladesh has to offer. Unfortunately, just two years prior to its independence, in 1970, Bangladesh experienced a devastating cyclone that flooded its lands and killed upwards of 500,000 people in the country. In some villages, the casualty toll was over 45%. The flooding waters continued to ravage the lands after the cyclone, drowning people and livestock as well as spreading disease and bacteria through the country. Many even suggest this flood was what pushed Bangladesh to seek its independence from Pakistan, its governing country at the time, due to its lack of relief provided to the devastated countryside.

In recent years, adaptation to flooding has reduced casualties, but the country is suffering from worse cyclones as well as land eroding into the rivers and ocean. In 2016 alone, Bangladesh experienced four large cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, when usually there is only one. Climate change has been a direct cause. With rising temperatures globally, more water evaporates and the air is able to hold more water vapor. With every 1°F rise in temperature, the atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor. This results in much heavier rainfalls in the area which causes major flooding even without a cyclone. Because of Bangladesh’s verdant geography, it has always had a long rainy season, commonly known in Bangladesh as monsoon season. With the heavier rainfall, Bangladesh is dealing with worse monsoon seasons year after year, devastating people’s lives as well as their food supply. And because most of the country is marshy, building taller buildings are not an option for them.

Climate change is not only affecting the amount of water in the air, but the amount of water in the seas as well. With arctic polar caps melting rapidly in the post-industrial era due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases, sea levels in Bangladesh are rising. Because much of the country’s long Indian ocean coast and because of its many large rivers that sprawl through the country, Bangladesh has lost considerable land because of rising sea levels. Scientists project that by 2050, Bangladesh’s sea levels will rise 50cm (more than a foot and a half). As a result, the country will lose about 11% of its land, ultimately causing 1 in 8 people to migrate in order to find a more hospitable area in which to live, more than 20 million people. Rising sea levels also cause sources of fresh water to be contaminated by saltwater, leaving not only people without clean, safe drinking water, but with degraded agriculture as well, with many farmers losing large yields.

Climate change is a growing threat in the global perspective, but we are seeing the effects of it now occurring in Bangladesh. With one of the densely populated areas in the world, the effects of climate change are being felt most heavily there. Even with major mitigation and adaptation efforts, the suffering of the Bangladeshi people is far from ending.


Image by Kenneth R. Weiss. Bangladesh, 2014. https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/bangladesh-flood


Climate Displacement in Bangladesh


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