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Thursday, September 04, 2008

In the Guardian, Tahmima Anam returns to her birthplace of Bangladesh to see how it is dealing with rising sea levels.

The facts about climate change in Bangladesh are indeed grim. The country is a low-lying delta, meaning any slight shift in sea levels will cause the land to be slowly swallowed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal. In the next 50 years, 17% of Bangladesh's landmass is sure to go underwater, causing more than 30 million people to become homeless. Those who live further inland will be only slightly better off: the cyclones and floods that are already a feature of the weather will occur more frequently and with greater ferocity. Geological events stimulated by changes in temperature will mean intense pulses of rainfall followed by periods of drought, and a potential collapse of the monsoon cycle itself. If the sea level rises by 5m (16ft), Dhaka will go under. This is the grim reality that the delegates of the UK/Bangladesh climate change conference, taking place in London next Wednesday, will aim to address. In expectation of the climate change deal that will be struck in Copenhagen next year, it is critical that Bangladesh's concerns are more widely known and understood.

But I have no intention of sounding the death-knell. I know that people in Bangladesh have, for generations, adapted to the cruelties of nature, and my destination is an example of their tenacity. Deep in the delta, a group of islanders, repeated victims of flooding and river erosion, have found a way to live with their unreliable, unforgiving landscape. The small islands on which they live - forced there because, in a country of 180 million people, every inch of available space has to be used - have an average life span of nine years before they are made uninhabitable. I wonder how these islanders cope with this shifting terrain; how they can bear to know that the place they are living in today may not exist tomorrow. I want to know because more and more people in Bangladesh will suffer the same lot, as the sea creeps up; and because, in the not so distant future, this may be the fate of humanity worldwide.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a governmental committee has concluded that the Low Country's system of dykes and dams needs to be dramatically strengthened. (via MeFi)