The impacts of climate change are mounting hardship of Bangladesh’s coastal people where calamities like cyclones, tidal surge, and river bank erosion nowadays hitting in increased number.
People living in these coastal areas are considered as the most vulnerable to the climate change impacts. Most of the people living there are poor and some are at the extreme poor segment.
Two major cyclones — Sidr and Aila — which hit Bangladesh coasts in 2007 and in 2009, had destroyed roads and embankments, washed away homes, lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. These extreme weather events which are considered as impacts of climate change have deepened the misery of coastal inhabitants.
Experts said agony of poor coastal people turned manifold as they are mainly dependent on natural resources for living and livelihoods. The calamities, when hit them, first damage the natural resources further weakening their strength.
With the impacts of climate change starting to be more visible day by day, scientists apprehend that a big portion of coastal areas of low-lying nations will be inundated because of sea level rise.
They said in Bangladesh a 10cm rise in sea level could inundate 2.0 per cent of arable lands by 2020 and 10 per cent lands by 2050 which may cause displacement of 15 million coastal residents.
Non-government organisations working in coastal districts estimate that nearly 5.0 million people living there are at high risk of either being displaced or experiencing extreme impacts of climate change in the near future.
Sea level rise
Sea level rise is a major concern for low lying nations including Bangladesh. Scientists blame manmade hazards for global warming which melts ice in the Himalayan and Antarctic. The incased volume of ice melting causes sea level rise which poses threat to existence of countries like Maldives and inundation of a big portion of Bangladesh territory.
The 2007 report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said a one-meter rise in sea levels may swamp 17 percent of Bangladeshi low lying areas and displace 20 million people by 2050.
A new scientific report released by the World Bank Group in June 2013 said among the South Asian nations Bangladesh will be most affected by an expected 2° Celsius temperature rise in the next decades. It said if temperature is up by 2.5 ° Celsius the flood areas in Bangladesh could increase by as much as 29 per cent.
The IPCC in its Fifth Assessment Report (released on September 27, 2013) projected that by 2100 the sea-level may rise by 28-98 cm, which is 50 per cent higher than the old projections of 18-59 cm when comparing the same emission level and time periods.
Livelihoods under severe threat
Hit by an increased number of disastrous events the lives and livelihoods of coastal people are under severe threat apart from loss of homes and lands. Especially, as saline water enters into the lands and ponds during cyclone and tidal surges, the lands lose their capacity to produce crops while sources of drinking water become polluted.
Due to excessive salinity in the lands, the farmers lose crops frequently which further weaken them financially alongside threatening food security. In most of the coastal districts farmers can produce rice once a year. When a farmer loses a crop once a year, he has no option but to strive with family members.
The other way of earning bread and butter for coastal people is fishing in the rivers and sea. But the increased numbers of cyclones and storms have strongly affected the profession as staying in the sea become highly risky for life while fishes are becoming unavailable day by day.
A study carried out by Campaign for Sustainable Rural Development (CSRL) found that in last 30 years the intensity and frequency of storms had increased by three times. During the 2007-2010 period Bangladesh has had 10 to 14 storms severe enough for a Signal No 3 warning.
Thirty years ago, just four or five such warnings were issued each year. This year the meteorological department also issued Signal No 3 warning for Bangladeshi river and sea ports in an increased number meaning that higher numbers of storms have formed this year compared to last year.
And when a Signal No 3 warning is issued, fishing trawlers in the sea are advised to return to the shore immediately meaning a loss of several thousands of taka in each trip.
Besides, the fishermen nowadays frequently talk about getting fewer numbers of fishes both in the sea and rivers. Many fishermen families starve both in off and peak seasons due to meagre earnings.
Lack of work triggers massive migration
The impacts of climate change are causing displacement of thousands of people from the coastal areas. The 1998 floods made 45 million people homeless while the cyclone Sidr displaced 650,000 in 2007, Aila 842,000 and Bijli 20,000 in 2009.
Failing to ensure livelihoods and losing living places, people from coastal districts are continuously migrating to nearest cities and towns as well as to the already overcrowded Dhaka. Estimations show that every year over half a million people pour into the capital majority of whom are believed to be climate migrants.
External migration is also taking place as many are forced to flee the country failing to repay the loans after losing everything to the river bank erosion and major cyclones. After cyclone Aila hit the area, around 50 per cent people of a village in Satkhira district left it, a handsome of them also migrated to neighbouring countries to secure a living.
In Southkhali union under Bagerhat district almost 30 per cent residents left the area for elsewhere after the cyclone Sidr struck it.
After reaching the cities these climate refugees start living in inhuman conditions in the slums in absence of civic facilities. These slum people suffer from various diseases and children living there suffer from malnutrition and lack of education.
They enter into the severely occupied job market but fail to ensure food for even twice a day. Many of them also start begging in the roadside, while some engage themselves in prostitution to earn foods and living.
Due to the increased number of migration, nowadays new makeshift rooms are being built in the slums everyday while some live in the street further raising public nuisance in the cities. These people, having no family planning measures, also cause baby boom in the already over-crowded urban areas.