For Bangladesh, Climate Change Crisis Is Now

Credit: Md Towhidul Island, PexelsAround the globe, climate change is now a hot topic. In developed countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Korea, teachers, school children, and even prime ministers are now out on the streets with banners, posters, and slogans because they’re worried about the future. Their future. A future that doesn’t include my relatives and millions of people in Bangladesh where climate change is not the dreadful future but the painful present. All these strikes, tweets, and proposals mean nothing when you only talk about your future, forgetting that the monster created by your past and present wrongdoings is not placid but has already arrived and attacked those in Bangladesh.

When you look at Bangladesh on the world map, you will notice it sits on the largest river delta in the world. This means that the people of Bangladesh share their joys and tragedies not only with the neighboring countries but also with the hundreds of rivers and tributaries that flow from the Himalayas and end at the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh is blessed with six seasons. The first month of summer brings Kalboishakhi— a heavy, calamitous thunderstorm– but it also brings delicious fruits, new year, and hope. The rainy season, or the monsoon, brings floods and river erosions, but it also brings festivities and family gatherings. Autumn and late autumn’s swift and gentle nature brings new harvest and breathtaking views. Winter brings some diseases and delicious food, while spring decorates the streets with its colorful flowers. It’s all predictable. For thousands of years, people have lived on this land and created a bond with nature. They know what to expect and they know how to persevere; except they don’t, anymore.

This is due to climate change.

You can say, “But we all have irregular weather patterns. What’s the big deal?” And living in Michigan, I understand more than anybody what a pain it could be, but the situation in Bangladesh is not a matter of putting on or taking off an extra layer of clothing. In recent years, the summer, monsoon and autumn seasons have merged together. The monsoon is lasting longer, with excessive rainfall, and the winters have become more severe. Salt deposits from the cyclones and rising sea levels are permanently ruining cropland. These changes harm the economy immensely, as Bangladesh is a heavily agricultural country. Nonetheless, the main issue is erosion and rising sea level, which is altering the landscape of Bangladesh and creating hundreds of thousands of climate refugees each year.

Rivers are called mata in Bangladesh- mother. They sustain people with incredibly fertile soil and abundant fish. Erosion has always been  a part of life for Bangladeshis, but now, it is pushing life out of the land. Since 1973 through 2017, Bangladesh’s three major rivers – the Padma, the Meghna, and the Jamuna – have engulfed more than 160,000 hectares of land. The rivers are swallowing homes, hospitals, schools, farming land, natural sites- everything.

Everything is at the mercy to the voracious mouth of today’s river mothers. Small islets called chars are at imminent risk. More than four million people live in those. Rising sea level, erosion, and storm surges are submerging chars underwater. Hundreds of thousands of people are becoming climate refugees every year and with no land to live on, they’re forced to migrate to the capital city, Dhaka.

However, Dhaka city, which has a population of approximately 16 million people, is not safe from the harms of climate change either. With no money and resources, these climate refugees are forced to live in slums which house forty percent of the city’s population. On top of the housing problem, the extended monsoons in recent years have caused flooding and heavy rainfall which hampers productivity in the city and damages infrastructure. The drainage system, for example, can no longer operate with such heavy rainfall, leaving the poor population vulnerable to numerous health risks.

The climate crisis has also greatly harmed Bangladesh’s natural biodiversity; it’s caused the loss of numerous crops and plants and the extinction of many species. Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is at the highest risk. A total of 425 species have been identified within this world heritage site, including the Royal Bengal Tiger which is already highly endangered. If we let the crisis continue, these animals and plants will only remain in the tales and legends, not in forests.

Bangladesh’s government has recently approved a multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan to better manage the country’s rivers and tackle erosions. Their deadline is 2100; however, Bangladesh doesn’t have until 2100 to wait. In fact, Bangladeshi people cannot even wait for the next eleven years until the rest of the world realizes the danger we are in. A 2013 analysis by John Pethick, a former professor of coastal science at Newcastle University in England, found that high tides in Bangladesh are rising 10 times faster than the global average. Various research groups predict that sea levels could rise by at least ten feet by 2100.  This is not good news for the low-lying country, considering 25 percent of its landmass lies just 7 feet above sea level, while another 70 percent is only at 15 feet above sea level.  Even a mere 3-foot rise would submerge nearly 20 percent of the country, forcing more than 30 million people to migrate.

There is a reason why I’m telling you all these statistics. It’s not so you could take pity  but so you could take responsibility. Bangladesh is one of the lowest producers of carbon emissions, producing 0.36 percent of global CO2 released into the atmosphere. Compare that with China, which is responsible for 28.6% of global carbon emissions, the U.S. with 16.0%, Japan with 3.7%, or Germany with 2.4%. Multi Billion-dollar companies from these countries have knowingly caused the climate crisis, and done little to prevent it. They didn’t lose money, but millions of people in Bangladesh have lost their lives to extreme natural disasters. Your obsession with plastic and synthetic clothes and cheap electronics doesn’t harm you, but they end up in landfills in Bangladesh where numerous children die each year from being exposed to toxic substances. When you lose your house to a fire, you can be reimbursed by the insurance companies, but the hundreds of thousands of climate refugees in Bangladesh have no such security. You can go to another hospital, or to a new school, but for those in Bangladesh who lost their only school or the only hospital to erosion, climate change means losing all access to education and healthcare. Climate change is the past, present, and destruction of Bangladesh.

Outside of the western world, climate change is neither a concern for the future nor hypothetical. In Bangladesh, the havoc that climate change brings is the present. Polluting nations must come up with effective and intensive strategies to respond to this crisis. Details of the governmental actions is the topic for another day. For today though, you must take action because in a democracy, you decide what your government does.

Nusrat Atika was born in Bangladesh where she spent most of her childhood. Growing up, she learned about her relatives who lost homes to river erosions, the trees that no longer grow in her mother’s village, and the animals that have disappeared from the landscape. She is currently an undergraduate student studying international politics and the economy.