The record-breaking low temperature the region was experiencing when I started to write the article. Bangladesh experienced its lowest temperature ever. The northern part of the country recorded on average 2.6°C and the southern part of the country is 10°-12°C. Not only that, last decade, Bangladesh has experienced an extreme change in climates such as heavy rainfall (>20mm), hot temperature (>32°C) and unprecedented calamities. Bangladesh ranked sixth among the world’s top 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events in the last 20 years, according to the Global Climate Risk Index by think-tank German Watch. In this article, we are going to discuss particular effects of climate change in Bangladesh with tentative recommendations and solutions.
Topographical, Climatic and Geographical Orientation of Bangladesh:
Bangladesh is a densely populated small country of South Asia located on the northern littoral of the Bay of Bengal. Although Bangladesh is a small country, it has considerable topographic diversity. There are three distinctive features: a broad alluvial plain subject to frequent flooding, a slightly elevated relatively older plain, and a small hill region drained by flashy rivers. It’s a riverine country of Ganges (Padma), Brahmaputra (Jamuna), and Meghna Rivers delta flowing from the Himalayas. About 700 of rivers and numbers of canals are the source of water and livelihood. 58 of those rivers are trans-boundary River with India and Myanmar. Average lands are exceedingly flat, low-lying (less than 12 m above the sea level), and subject to annual flooding. Small parts of (about one-tenth) hilly tracts are constituted in the Southern part. Less than 16% of areas covered forest and the world largest mangrove forest Sundarbans situated on Khulna, the south-western part of the country.
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, the climate of Bangladesh is tropical and monsoonal. In the dry season, from October to March, temperatures are mild and pleasant. The weather turns hot and muggy from March to June, awaiting the monsoon rains. From June to October, the skies open and drop most of the country’s total annual rainfall.
The recent trend in Climate Change:
Climate change poses significant effects in Bangladesh. The contemporary phenomena have warranted that the situation created by climate change is critical and the country Bangladesh is not ready enough to cope with the disaster. Summers are becoming hotter, monsoon irregular, untimely rainfall, heavy rainfall over short period causing water logging and landslides, very little rainfall in dry period, increased river flow and inundation during monsoon, increased frequency, intensity and recurrence of floods, crop damage due to flash floods and monsoon floods, crop failure due to drought, prolonged cold spell, salinity intrusion along the coast leading to scarcity of potable water and redundancy of prevailing crop practices, coastal erosion, riverbank erosion etc. In 2017, the country faced ultimate worst flooding. At least nine rivers, including the Jamuna, Teesta, Dharla, Surma and the Kushiyara, were flowing above the danger level. Not only Bangladesh but also an adjacent area of Nepal and India faced the same problem. Nearly 41 million people have been affected. More than half a million houses have been washed away or damaged and 450,000 hectares of cultivable land have been flooded. The devastating flood at haor belt in Sylhet, the Northeastern part of Bangladesh caused subsequent deaths of ducks, fish and other aquatic species, livestock and ruin of local habitats. The Fisheries Department estimates that half a million metric tonnes of Boro crops, around 1,276 tonnes of fish worth roughly Tk 410 million and other aquatic species as well as 4000 ducks along with other livestock died in different haors in Bangladesh. The landslide collapse in Chittagong was another phenomenon which drew a horrific scenario in 2017. At least 130 people including 4 Army men died instantly. The landslide happened due to too much rain in a short time and destruction of trees and hills by people.
The effects of climate change in Bangladesh: Climate Change is happening now
Bangladesh is facing multidimensional effects due to climate change. Those effects include environmental, ecological, socio-economic, cultural, health, security etc. we are going to describe separately.
Environmental and ecological effect:
Bangladesh was named by green country and the ecology was defined by characteristics of various plants, animals and birds. The environment was a monsoon, people were used to such weather and their livelihood was closely related to the environment. Climate change increased floods, cyclone and storm surge, salinity intrusion, heavy rainfall, extreme temperature and droughts. Bangladesh is among the most affected countries in South Asia by an expected 2°C rise in the world’s average temperatures in the next decades. 17% of the land will be submerged due to sea level rise, according to the report by World Bank cited Bangladesh as one of more “potential impact hotspots” threatened by Extreme River floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures. At least 12 major tropical cyclones hit the country since 1965, leaving 479,490 people dead. The most recent cyclones are Cyclone Sidr (2007), Cyclone Aila (2009), Cyclone Mahasen (2013), Cyclone Raonu (2016). Storm surges and related floods are likely to be more severe in intense tropical cyclones in future (IPCC report 2007).
The coastal areas of Bangladesh, with near flat topography and location at the tip of “funnel-shaped” the Bay of Bengal, are susceptible to a number of disasters and saline water intrusion. With the accelerated impacts of climate change, salinity extends from the exposed to the interior coast causing infertility of the cropland. A soil survey by six government agencies, including the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), found higher-than-acceptable soil salinity in the arable land of the southern region of Bangladesh.
Rainfall plays an important role in the agro-economy of Bangladesh, located in the tropical zone. Its climate is characterized by large variations in seasonal rainfall with moderately warm temperatures and high humidity. While the mean annual rainfall over the country is about 2320 mm, there are places with a mean annual rainfall of 6000mm or more. Rainfall is increasing at 8.49mm/year during ix monsoon and 5.12mm/year during the pre-monsoon season in the EH region. Hilly topography of this region along with elevation ranging between 600 and 900m above mean sea level contributes to the heavy rainfall. (AKM Saiful Islam et al, BUET)
On the other hand, scarcity of surface water also visible in the northern part. Irregular rainfall causes agricultural drought here. Northwestern regions of Bangladesh are particularly exposed to droughts. Drought occurred more than 20 times between 1960-2010.
The ecological effects are also significant. Bangladesh was a hub of wide ecological diversity and mangrove forest. World’s largest mangrove forest Sundarban is a unique ecosystem full of life, energy and enthusiasm, rich in flora and fauna, provides habitats for about 6540 species, both aquatic and terrestrial. About 5,700 species are of vascular plants and 840 species belong to the forest wildlife (Akhond, 1999). The inundation, high current, salinity and human-induced activities are hampering those biodiversities severely.
Bangladesh is a country where land and people are closely intertwined. Around 80% of the people live in rural area and the economy is agro-based. The main relationships between society and climate are close that’s the impacts of changing the climate, especially natural hazards, might have on society can be identified. Considering relationships between society and climate will help to assess the socio-economic vulnerability or resiliency of the country. The climate-society relations describes that socioeconomic effects are various like, lands turn into barren due to climate change, it increase unemployment of farmer and poverty, unemployed farmers and homeless people due to river erosion tend to international migration, women and children become vulnerable because women are closely related to agriculture, spread of air-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases.
Govt. and NGO’s are working on improving agro-production, providing credits to buy technologies but those are not sufficient. Sometimes indebtedness strikes many small landowners. Thus, unemployed farmers are moving to the city area, they are working in construction or industrial projects. Their skills are remaining unutilized. Large-scale migration is creating labour surplus. The incapacity of the city to allocate a huge number of people causes unhealthy inhabitants. Dhaka, the capital city of 350 square kilometres is now home to more than 15 million people with the population density of about 43,000 people per square kilometre.
The economic cost of climate change is also not little, according to the 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Bangladesh’s economy is more at risk to climate change than any country. With a per capita gross domestic product or GDP, of about $1,220, the economic losses in Bangladesh over the past 40 years were at an estimated $12 billion, depressing GDP annually by 0.5 to 1 percent. Especially devastating storms that come along every few years have an outsized impact – such as the 2007 cyclone Sidr, which wrought an estimated $1.7 billion in damages, or about 2.6 percent of the GDP on top of $1.1 billion losses due to monsoon flooding in the previous 12 months. In May 2009, 3.9 million Bangladeshis directly suffered from the impact of Cyclone Aila, which caused an estimated $270 million in asset damage.
read more Importance of Sundarban to Bangladesh
The solution: an all inclusive approach
The effects of climate change in Bangladesh are so apparent. Various actors like govt. NGOs, technical experts, and development partners are working toward solutions. Geographical location, geological set-up, land characteristics, the multiplicity of rivers, poverty, high rate of population growth, illiteracy, lack of awareness of mass people about climate change and inadequate disaster preparedness are the variables of climate change. Bangladesh has developed Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan and adopted Road Map for National Adaptation Plan (NAP), formulated Road Map for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA). To reduce the effects of climate change, mitigation and adaptation is the global policy. In case of Bangladesh we can consider those recommendations:
- Policy implementation process should be more visible. Proper monitoring should be assured. Inter-institutional relations should be more co-operative and bureaucratic lengthiness should be reduced. For example, to solve water logging problem WASA, City Corporation and Development Authority should work together. Surface water should be preserved.
- The awareness activities toward people should increase. Students, Youth Organizations, Civil Society could be the prominent promoter. The writer of this article has an idea of “Climate School online”, govt. can support such innovation.
- In some cases, “Environmental Police” could be initiated. The structure of “Environmental Police” will be made of experts, researcher, and climate activist and traditional police.
- should take sustainable development policy. For example, any project like “Rampal Power Plant” should be assessed more carefully.
Above all, to combat climate change effects Bangladesh should keep in mind that prevention is better than cure.
writer, Sharif Mustajib Climate activist and blogger.