Is global warming drowning Bangladesh?

Md Saiful Haque Writes From Stockholm, Sweden

The impacts of global warming will be felt across the globe. Glaciers and ice caps will melt at faster rates. Occurrence of extreme floods and droughts will increase.

Water stress will increase globally while water quality will deteriorate. In South Asia, seasonal variation of water will increase. Water resource scarcity with enhanced climate variability will intensify. More than a billion people will experience water stress in the region. There's high risk of rain, riverine and glacier-melt related floods. Flooding due to sea-level rise and deterioration of water quality will intensify. And what's more grim, there are uncertainties in the projections. These are the basic findings of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest report by Bangladeshi scientist Dr Monirul Mirza, a lead author for IPCC, presented at the 2007 World Water Week high level panel discussion on climate change in Stockholm last August. The poorest countries have always been predicted to be worst hit by human-induced global warming and climate change. Bangladesh, as the lowest riparian country in the South Asian region that faces the sea -- and drains 92 percent of the snowmelt from the vast Himalayan mountain range -- is one of the most vulnerable places on earth to global warming and climate change. One of the poorest nations in the world, Bangladesh is projected to lose 17.5 percent of its land if sea level rises about 40 inches (1 m). And sea level is already rising in the Bay of Bengal even faster than expected, and pushing salty water inland, lowering the productivity of rice -- the country's key crop -- cultivation, especially in the south of the country. Coastal flooding will threaten animals, plants, and fresh water supplies. The current danger posed by storm surges when cyclones hit Bangladesh is likely to increase. Scientists believe global warming will make cyclones in the region bigger and more frequent. A UN report says: "Of the 12 hottest years on record 11 occurred between 1995 and 2006." What's more, the heat is only continuing to rise. Rising temperatures are creating havoc with the earth's weather, bringing too much rain to some, not enough to others. Climate change is likely to heavily hit Bangladesh by breaking down agricultural systems, which would seriously affect Bangladesh, leaving large sections of people facing malnutrition, worsening freshwater scarcity, increasing risks of fatal diseases, and triggering mass displacement due to recurring severe floods and storms like the recent Cyclone Sidr. Asia's largest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, join in the world's most extensive delta and flow into the Bay of Bengal. Here lies Bangladesh, a nation of 145 million people already beset with grinding poverty, severe frequent floods, and now also affected by rising sea levels. And the Kusiara and Surma rivers coming from the Himalayan-foot district Assam (in India) form the Meghna -- another mighty river. The Ganges and Brahmaputra meet the Meghna and then together course south in hundreds of distributaries to form the largest delta on the planet. Siltation of river-beds caused by sediments carried by rivers from upstream countries decelerates drainage and accentuates the intensity of floods. According to an estimate (Milliman, Meade 1983, taken from World Bank 1998), about 1.67 billion tons of suspended sediment discharged annually through the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, while Bangladesh Water Development Board estimated a suspended sediment discharge of about 1.27 billion tons excluding bed load which may amount to about 50 percent of the total sediment load. Ninety percent of the land is floodplain, and the country has the world's highest density of rivers per unit of area. Yet, with increased population and expanded economic activity, Bangladesh faces serious shortages of water during the dry season -- flooding during the monsoon and too little in the dry season. Bangladesh's location and topography make it particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change and also hard to protect, where the rivers are constantly shifting, making it difficult to build up protective banks or large dikes to hold back the sea. The soil here is mud and, as such -- not steady. About one million people a year are displaced by loss of land along rivers due to constant river-bank erosion, and this is increasing. People are little aware of the effect on them of sea level rise and a warming climate. Because of its poverty -- 78 percent of its population lives on less than $2 a day -- Bangladesh cannot afford the kind of defences planned in Europe. World Bank reported, in 2001 that sea level was rising about 3 mm a year in the Bay of Bengal. It warned of loss of Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest -- and a world heritage site -- and threat to hundreds of bird species. 15 to 20 percent of Bangladesh is within one metre rise of sea level. The World Bank warned of a decline of rice crop up to 30 percent with predicted sea level rise. This is not a one-time event that sometime in the future will affect so many. It is a constant process of ever higher tides, which affects more and more people even in time of lower river flow and good weather. According to the latest UN Human Development Report (HDR) released in November, Bangladesh is among the countries to be worst-affected by climate change that may cause a large-scale reversal in human development. Describing the effects of climate change on the poorest countries as horrible, the HDR states: "Those who have largely caused the problem -- the rich countries -- are not going to be those who suffer the most in the short term. It is the poorest, who are not contributing significantly to green house gas emissions, who are the most vulnerable." The HDR report titled 'Fighting Climate Change' cautioned "Business-as-usual scenarios will trigger large scale reversals in human development, undermining livelihoods and causing mass displacement." UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis, in his introduction to the report, said: "It is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the most immediate, and severe, human costs." With only 15 percent of world's population, rich countries account for nearly half of global carbon dioxide emissions, with the United States -- the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases -- leaving a carbon footprint that is nearly 70 times higher than in Bangladesh. Global carbon dioxide output in 2006 approached a staggering 32 billion tons, with about 25 percent of that coming from the US. There's not much Bangladesh can do. Unless developed countries cut their greenhouse emissions, our efforts will be undercut. The country is particularly vulnerable because it has a low institutional capacity and lacks resources to combat the changing climate. But the immediate consequences of climate change are in Bangladesh -- and also in Africa. As for Bangladesh, both adaptation and mitigation measures are essential to reduce high risks. Adaptation measures in poor countries like ours should be subsidised by rich countries. It is poor countries that are "suffering the brunt of climate change". But it is rich countries' greenhouse-gas emissions that have "caused this crisis in the first place". Without aid from richer countries to pay for more durable raised roads, hospitals and other infrastructures, Bangladesh will be unable to handle more disasters like deadly Sidr and frequent, ravaging deluges. With sea levels rising and rivers swelling in the coming decades, vast areas of the country would disappear, sparking an exodus of climate refugees. The terrible question is, where will they go? However, world leaders at the UN climate conference in mid-December, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, have agreed to reach a new deal on fighting global warming by 2009. The contentious, two-week conference ended with the United States, facing angry criticism from other delegations, relenting in its opposition to a request from developing nations for more technological help for fighting climate change. The new deal does not commit countries to specific actions against global warming. It simply sets an agenda and schedule for negotiators to find ways to reduce pollution and help poor countries adapt to environmental changes by speeding up the transfer of technology and financial

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