Climate Change Challenges in Bangladesh

by Marjana Chowdhury, Bangladesh, ELP 2015
Written on July 29, 2015.

Climate change has emerged as the greatest threat to humankind. The long-term effects of climate change are likely to hinder the progress towards sustainable development and undermine the development gains. Climate change will have negative impacts on all aspects of human development including livelihoods, food security, safe water and sanitation, health care, shelter, etc. Poor communities of the developing countries will be pushed further into extreme vulnerable conditions and suffer the most in the face of increased intensity and frequency of disasters.

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries that is facing immense challenges due to climate change. Its geophysical position coupled with highly dense population, limited resources and dependence to nature makes Bangladesh a hazard-prone country with many subsequent catastrophic events like floods, cyclones and salinity intrusion. The poor are the most affected by the climate extremes and have very little capacity to cope with the risks.

Bangladesh is already experiencing the impacts of climate change through irregular rainfall patterns, floods, flash floods, cyclones, saline intrusion, drought, sea level rise, tidal surge and water logging. Poor communities in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and extreme climatic events with environmental degradation. The northwestern part of Bangladesh is experiencing successive drought and acute water shortage, pushing agriculture dependent communities further into poverty. In the central zone and northeast, increased and prolonged flood, flash flood and river erosion are causing unprecedented loss of livelihood and assets.

Two devastating cyclones, cyclone Sidr in November 2007 and cyclone Aila in May 2009 that hit the coast of Bangladesh gave a glimpse of the challenges waiting for the country in the near future. While the loss of lives during the cyclones were reduced, the destruction to infrastructure, ecosystem and livelihood would take many years to recover, making the long-term impact of climate change visible with declining living conditions for the coastal communities.

Hundreds of thousands of coastal improvised communities have already been displaced and pushed into extreme poverty without any livelihood opportunity and shelter. Millions more will follow if the sea level rise and saline water intrusion continues to move upward in the inland. A 45 cm rise in sea level will not only affect the vast coastal ecosystem and hamper agriculture and food production, it has the potential to dislocate about 38 million people from 20 coastal districts. The climate-induced displacement will create new housing, livelihood and settlement challenges as well as enhance competition and conflict over scarce resources including land, water, fisheries and forests. Rural to urban as well as cross boarder migration will continue in the slums without adequate income, food, water, shelters and basic amenities.

Even with its scarce resources and increased challenges, Bangladesh has traveled a long way in reducing risk of its people and communities. People of Bangladesh have shown incredible courage and steadfast determination in combating the impact of disaster and climate change. From each disaster, the country bounced back with renewed optimism, harnessing the unwavering spirit of the people, learning from the past and preparing for the future.

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