Impacts of climate change mount coastal people’s hardship

Syful Islam

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.’s-hardship.html

Safe drinking water disappearing fast in Bangladesh – study

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 2 May 2013 09:45 AM

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The availability of safe drinking water, particularly in Bangladesh’s “hard-to-reach areas,” is expected to worsen as the country continues to suffer the effects of climate change, experts say.

According to a study by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, some 28 million Bangladeshis, or just over 20 percent of the total population, are living in harsh conditions in the so-called “hard-to-reach areas” that make up a quarter of the country’s land area. The study found that char — land that emerges from riverbeds as a result of the deposit of sediments — is among the most inaccessible, along with hilly areas, coastal regions and haors, bowl-shaped wetlands areas in northeastern Bangladesh.

“People living in hard-to-reach areas are often vulnerable to natural calamities like flooding, riverbank erosion and siltation,” said Rokeya Ahmed, a water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank. “As a result of climate change, salinity in Bangladesh’s coastal areas has increased (a great deal), causing a lack of sweet water. Women of coastal and haor areas need to go miles and miles to collect a pitcher of safe drinking water.”

Worsening weather extremes, that bring floods, storm surges and cyclones, are contributing to increases in water salinity and other problems accessing clean water, the report said. Shahdat Hossain, a grocer in Matlab district, a hard-to-reach area some 50 kilometres from Dhaka, the country’s capital, said his town is now subject to regular river erosion and flooding.

“River bank erosion has turned many people of this area into refugees,” he says. “Since this area is very close to the Bay of Bengal, the amount of arsenic in the groundwater is also very high. We need to dig much deeper to get arsenic-free water.”

Experts fear that the approaching summer could intensify the struggle to find potable water. Shareful Hassan, a consultant on geographic information systems and a researcher on the World Bank study, says surface water sources have already dried up in many parts of the country, which will have a heavy impact on drinking water access, sanitation and ecosystems.

“In the drought-prone Barind Tract area, in north Bangladesh, you have to dig more than 350 metres to get safe drinking water,” he said, adding that the situation is expected to worsen since unusually low rainfall in the area means underground aquifers are not being replenished.


Even in Dhaka, people have been reporting dwindling water supplies. Eftekharul Alam, an engineer for the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation, said groundwater levels in the city are falling drastically as a result of excessive extraction to meet the growing megacity’s needs.

Dhaka’s underground aquifers are usually recharged with water that percolates underground in nearby districts, but the levels of underground fresh water in those districts have also dropped, allowing seawater to start seeping into the capital’s aquifers. If this continues, experts say, Dhaka’s drinking water could become increasingly undrinkable.

According to Ainun Nishat, a climate change expert and vice chancellor of BRAC University in Dhaka, over the last five years rainfall across Bangladesh has dropped by 50 percent and become increasingly unpredictable. That has led to a variety of problems, including growing salinity in groundwater.

“Salinity in the water of coastal areas has now reached over 20 parts per thousand, but the human body can only tolerate 5 parts per thousand,” he said.

Nishat says the best option for drought- and saline-prone areas is to preserve rainwater in artificial ponds and distribute it to communities. And he agrees with other experts that the government must turn to technology to bring drinking water to those who need it.

Filtration and desalination plants are expensive, but experts say they offer the only chance to avert a looming crisis. Nishat suggests installing sand filter systems, in which hand pumps are used to suck water from artificial ponds through a filter that makes the water potable.

For those living in hard-to-reach areas, the search for a solution has become a matter of urgency.

“We now frequently face cyclones and flash floods which cause the swamping of croplands by saltwater and put us in danger,” said Shafiqul Islam, a farmer in Barisal, a southern Bangladesh district that the World Bank study categorised as an “extremely” hard-to-reach area. “Our lives are under severe threat. Getting safe drinking water has become a big challenge.”

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper, published in Dhaka. He can be reached at

Will the climate ever change for Sundarbans?

Published online 30 April 2013 in Nature India

Seven years after the first report on the ‘vanishing islands‘ of Sundarbans, Subhra Priyadarshini revisits the fragile delta in the Bay of Bengal to find that it is not just climate change that threatens the existence of this world heritage mangrove tiger-land spread across the Indo-Bangladesh border.

(Pictures: Subhra Priyadarshini)

The seas are rising around the Sundarbans. That is old news.

Two islands in this 100-odd island conglomerate have vanished from the face of earth. Even that is old news, met with a stoic shake of the head by environment refugees who now inhabit Sagar, the biggest island in west Sundarbans. For them ‘climate change’ is just another phrase that NGOs and people from the media use to describe everything that is wrong with their lives.

In their life full of challenges, the loudest alarm bells ring almost before each monsoon — of the fury that the sea unleashes between September and November. Severe cyclones — four of which have visited the Sundarbans between 2007 and 2009 — are gulping in more and more land every year. The world’s only mangrove tiger-land is now a constantly shrinking landmass, its existence threatened by severe cyclonic storms, unmanageable demographics, rising seas, coastal flooding and erosion.

Though just a bit of this fear is reflected in government figures, it is clearly evident in Shamila’s voice. “The fury of the sea now is like never before,” she says standing right where she stood seven years back outside her hut in one of the many refugee colonies dotting Sagar. Shamila has grown from a shy teenager into a confident mother of two and knows where to flee if the going gets tough. “We will go to Kolkata and do something there,” she says talking of her secret dream to settle in the burgeoning megapolis, capital of West Bengal, where “you get beautiful saris”.

Climate displacements

Shamila’s father Sheikh Abdullah did something similar in the late 1990s when he left the sinking island of Lohachara in the vicinity, along with 7000 other refugees from various islands, and sought shelter in Sagar. Lohachara does not exist on the map anymore along with another island Bedford, which never had any human habitation.

Scientists estimate that Sagar will be the worst hit in future with over 30,000 people displaced by 2020 even as neighbouring Namkhana produces 15,000 more refugees. The other islands, all in the western end of the estuarine delta, predicted to face similar fates are Ajmalmari (east and west), Dalhousie, Dakshin Surendra Nagar, Moushuni, Lothian, Ghoramara, Dulibhasani, Dhanchi, Bulchery, Bhangaduani and Jambudwip.

According to estimates, between 2001 and 2010, the net loss of land to the seas across the Indian Sundarbans stands at 63 square kilometre. About 1.35 million people are currently at high risk from sea level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding with a further 2.4 million people exposed to moderate risk.

Sugata Hazra, Director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata has been studying the seas and listening to the problems of these refugees for long years now. “There have been four cyclones — Sidr, Nargis, Bijli and Aila — in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal in the last part of the decade. Though the frequency of these storms and cyclones has gone down, the intensity appears to be increasing, possibly as a result of rising sea surface temperatures,” he says. Hazra predicts that the 2015 pre-monsoon is going to see another bout of massive flooding.

The pattern appears to be “in line with global climate models which also predict declines in cyclone frequency”, Hazra says. Other scientists studying the trends in the Bay of Bengal say the region has registered 26 per cent increase in severe cyclonic storms in the last 120 years, intensifying post-monsoon.1

However, quick flooding is by far the biggest threat. Slow sinking of islands, on the other hand, takes centuries to get noticed, Hazra says.

The Rising seas

Hazra has been harping on the sea level rise issue for long too, though not many acknowledge this as an immediate threat preferring to call it ‘part of a slow global phenomenon’. “The threat of severe coastal erosion due to relative sea level rise is something that needs immediate attention,” Hazra insists. He quotes an analysis of 50 years of data from three data stations in the Hugli estuary that show a sea level increase of between +0.76mm/year and +5.22 mm/year at different locations in the Indian Sundarbans.2

His own estimation of tide gauge data from the Sagar island observatory between 2002 and 2009 shows a relative mean sea level rise at the rate of 12 mm/year. “In the last 25 years, the rate of relative sea level rise comes close to 8 mm/year, significantly higher than the rate of 3.14mm/year in the previous decade,” he says.

In a recent report he co-authored for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)3, Hazra says besides global warming and the subsequent thermal expansion of water, the rather rapid subsidence of the Bengal delta (2-4 mm/year), compaction of silt and other local causes may be responsible for the exceptionally high rate of relative sea level rise in the Indian Sundarbans.

For the locals, these small numbers do not make a difference. “I don’t know if the sea level is rising. I can see the sea rise during high tide and ebb during low tide,” says Gokul Ghorai, who lives in one of the picturesque islands and sustains his family of five through fishing. “All I know is that the sea keeps pushing our embankements back every couple of years all over these islands.” In 2009 alone, the Aila cyclone demolished about 1000 km of embankments across Sundarbans. “Around 50,000 people left the islands to become labourers in places places like Mumbai and Delhi — there’s no official documentation on how many left,” Hazra says.

Hazra also estimates that the temperature in the Sundarbans will rise by 1°C by 2050 and might have a bearing on the chemical composition of sea water in terms of “increased acidification and decreased dissolved oxygen levels.”

Kumud Ranjan Naskar, a former national fellow of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and author of several compilations on Sundarbans, feels that the immediate issue at hand is to predict the severe weather events correctly and base the development roadmap of Sundarbans surrounding these events.

“That is much more immediate than climate change, global warming or rising seas,” he says. Naskar, who retired from ICAR a couple of years back and now lives with two 50-feet high Sundari trees in the backyard of his home in suburban Baruipur, not far from the delta, also suspects the theory of subsidence of the Sundarbans. “There is a lot of complex estuarine arithmetic here – to prove subsidence is not so easy.”

The dwindling forests

The Sundarban delta, formed by the river trio Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna, also faces a major threat from discharges of untreated domestic and industrial effluents carried by tributary rivers. A major oild disembarkment terminal in eastern India – the Haldia Port Complex – has been a source of contaminated mud from harbour dredging.

Multiple studies456 over the years have found that chemical pollutants such as heavy metals, organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from agricultural runoffs, wastewater, sewage discharges and agricultural wastes might be changing the estuary’s geochemistry irreversibly and affecting the local coastal environment.

Naskar says it does not augur well for the mangrove plant species Sundarbans is so famous for. Of the 69 species found in India, 63 exist in the estuarine delta and his estimate is that the delta may hold up to 140 mangrove, mangrove associates, back mangrove and coastal zone flora. Naskar, who spearheaded the creation of a natural genepool project in one of the islands some years back, is not so optimistic about the forest cover anymore. “The idea was to preserve one specimen of every mangrove species found across the Sundarbans for posterity,” he says.

Though the genepool might live on, the natural mangrove vegetation and the overall land area has been steadily decreasing.

Hazra fishes out satellite maps from his cluttered desk to show comparative images that establish a 5 percent loss of forest cover in the 20 years between 1989 and 2009.

Across the Sundarbans, degraded forests are being replaced by saline blanks, further reducing forest cover. “Climate induced increase in surface-ocean stratification has effects on phytoplankton productivity which may lead to an overall decrease in primary production,” Hazra notes.

On a visit to the islands his keen eye catches new creeks. “Look at the number of streams inside these forests. There are so many more now — the density of the streams is also increasing.”

Warming up to climate change

The West Bengal government, which till recently did not publicly acknowledge the climate change threat to Sundarbans, has made a clear departure in its stand in the last couple of years. A three-year long exercise that culminated in creation of a State Action Plan on Climate Change7, made public last month (March 2013), now underlines the major threat that climate change poses in the delta.

“The ground level workers always knew it. Now the policy makers have also quantified the vulnerability posed to the islands due to climate change,” says Debal Ray, Principal secretary of the state’s environment department and a member secretary of the West Bengal Biodiversity Board.

Ray says the government has initiated a number of scientific studies to understand and predict the influence of climate processes in the estuarine delta and is focussing its effort to “prepare for the inevitable”. “The idea is to create better linkages by constructing bridges for evacuation in times of emergency, to create better mobile phone penetration in the islands for early warning dissemination and to automate weather forecast,” he says.

Damning demographics, food fears

72-year-old fisherman Tapan Debnath, who knows the creeks and forests of Sundarbans like the back of his palm, says he went fishing across the islands and rarely saw large habitations when he was a teenager. “I see people everywhere now, in newer patches of land that were earlier forests,” he says.

The islands have an interesting mix of inhabitants — first generation immigrants from East Midnapore district in West Bengal and parts of what is now Bangladesh, descendants of settlers from the days of colonial administration and a small group of tribal people from Chotanagpur plateau brought to clear forests. In effect, Sundarban now has a very high population density.

According to the WWF report, there is a significant increase in the settlement area from 1226 square km to 1666 square km. Available agricultural land has also reduced and the population crossed the 45,00,000 mark in the 2011 census. The mathematics is simple then — it means an increasing threat to land and food security.

The West Bengal government has taken baby steps in trying to introduce salt-resistant varieties of paddy by providing subsidies to farmers. “Since these varieties have lesser productivity than higher yielding ones, we encourage the farmers to cultivate them on a small patch of land and offer them some incentives. This is one of the top priority things we are doing in the Sundarbans today — to conserve salinity tolerant seed varieties in the face of incessant flooding in the region,” Debal Ray says.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources hunted for the six locally recalled salt-tolerant farmers’ paddy varieties, but found only two — Hamilton and Matla. The others might have been lost from the region after the “green revolution”, the bureau says, and recommends re-introduction of these salt-resistant paddy varieties in the region to ‘enhance adaptive capacity of the farmers against recurrent salt water inundation’.

Ray says the government will need an outlay of Rs 20, 000 crore in India’s 13th Five year plan period to implement all the well-meaning adaptation and mitigation strategies they have set out in the state action plan. “We can only be optimistic that we get this kind of fund to do what needs to be done to protect the Sundarbans,” he says.

  • References

    1. Singh, O. P. Long-term trends in the frequency of severe cyclones of Bay of Bengal: Observations and simulations. Mausam. 58, 59-66 (2007)
    2. Nandy, S. et al. Trend of sea level change in the Hugli estuary, West Bengal. 21st Conference of Indian Institute of Geomorphology. (2008)
    3. Indian Sundarbans delta. A vision. WWF policy document (2011)
    4. Sarkar, S. K. et al. Water quality management in the lower stretch of the river Ganges, east coast of India: An approach through environmental education. J. Cleaner Production 15, 1459-1467 (2007)
    5. Guzzella, L. et al. Distribution of HCH, DDT, HCB and PAH in the sediments of coastal environments of West Bengal, Northeastern part of India. Environ. Int. 31, 523-534 (2005)
    6. Binelli, A. et al. Concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in Sundarban mangrove wetland, north eastern part of Bay of Bengal (India).Mar. Pollut. Bull. 54, 1220-1229 (2007)
    7. State Action Plan on Climate Change, West Bengal (2013)

150 farmers in Thatta to learn multiple crop cultivation

Nearly 150 farmers in Thatta will learn how to cultivate multiple crops and adjust to the new cropping calendar.

Through a project initiated with the help of three community-based organisations in Thatta, local farmers will find a lot of relief in their work. The project director, Haseeb Kiani, called the project, “the first local adaptation plan of action in response to climate change at the grass root level.”

Lead Pakistan in Muzaffargarh district will also launch a similar project – training 450 farmers to build salinity drains, necessary to drain excess rain water to the canals while preventing soil erosion and water logging problem, leaving the land unsuited for agricultural purposes. The pilot projects, launched last week in Thatta and a week before in Muzaffargarh, are set for completion by April 2014.

Kiani, the director for Lead’s Climate Leadership for Effective Adaptation and Resilience project in 13 districts across South Punjab and Sindh, said they are interviewing 150 people in each district about the changes in response to extreme weather, floods, and uneven rain patterns.

The year-long training project in Thatta was launched on March 29. Interviews with local farmers revealed that winters are becoming shorter while summer season is becoming longer, said Kiani. This has delayed the cropping period since the traditional sowing season for wheat started on October 15 and lasted till the first week of November. With shorter winters, it has moved as farther as December 15, he pointed out.

Many crops do not survive because most local farmers are still following the old cropping calendar. This had led to low yields or has damaged the entire crop of wheat, sunflower, sugarcane and cotton. This programme will train farmers on techniques for maximum utilisation of their land. For one field, they will be trained to crop cotton or wheat along with some local vegetables. If one crop is damaged, the other could serve as a financial cushion, he explained.

The vulnerability study for Muzaffargarh, worst hit by the floods in South Punjab in 2010 revealed the foremost demand to establish salinity drains. Old ones are broken down or non-existent in most areas, he said, adding that uneven monsoon patterns also make these drains an absolute necessity.

Their studies also revealed that only 1.5 million acres of the total 2.5 million acres remains cultivable in Muzaffargarh. Salinity and water logging cannot be blamed entirely for the land becoming infertile, but they are definitely one of the big reasons behind the loss of agricultural land, he said.

The farmers who manage to establish salinity drains will be given small incentives. “This will not only encourage them to build drains they are to benefit from, but will also encourage other farmers to build similar ones to prevent flooding and water logging in the future.”

After the interviews, a vulnerability assessment report is compiled and then focus group discussions are held. Following the focus group discussions, Lead will prepare a local plan of action. So far, assessment studies and focus groups have already been held in Layyah, Dadu, Badin, Muzaffargarh and Thatta, while the plans of actions are in process.

Lok Sanjh, another Islamabad-based NGO, is conducting research to prepare local plan of actions for farmers in Attock, Chakwal and Rawalpindi districts of North Punjab and in Layyah in South Punjab. Its founder, Shahid Zia, said a project to understand climate change will last a year, but a plan of action and implementation will take more time. Research is underway on crop rotation and seed management given the changing weather in these regions, he added.

Five years ago, Zia also introduced the system of rice intensification, a climate-resilient rice growing technique, in northern districts of Punjab. Over 500 farmers are currently applying the technique to grow rice crop.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2013.

You can see the original story here.


The Industrial Waste of the Kothri and Nooriabad are present in the water of KB Feder to Kanjhar lake,which are dangerous for the human being and the underwater species.The solutions were made for this problem but it was temporary,the industrial waste and poisionous water will again enter in to the Kanjhar lake.The Managing Director of Karachi water and saverage board seriously said that after the notice from Department of Environment and Industry for the last two years ,there were no steps taken to solve this problem

Drought and Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties

The Industrial Technology Institute has initiated a programme to develop drought tolerant and salt tolerant verities of rice to cope up with effects of climate change. CEO of the ITI Dr. Aziz Mubarak told the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation that the programme is carried out with the support of Ministry of Technology and Researches and will be introduced the farmers.

News Story Carried in the Main News Bulletin of the SLBC ( 4.06 min of the clip)

A briny future for Bangladesh

Increasing salinity now threatens 17% of land in Bangladesh, according to new research carried out by the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC).

Bangladesh, a country with one of the highest population densities in the world, is also the country most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Most of the country is low-lying; and in some areas groundwater levels have dropped below sea level, due to climate change, overuse of groundwater and river diversion projects.