LOW-LYING Bangladesh with a large coastal area accounting for 20 per cent of the total land mass stands at the forefront of the emerging climate crisis. The adverse climate change impact is, as studies show, likely to displace about 40 million people living in 70 upazilas in the 19 coastal districts. The sea-level rise, an increase in salinity along the coast and the intrusion of salt water into plain land are, as experts say, negatively affecting the lives and livelihoods of people living in coastal areas. The prime minister, in the parliament on Wednesday, acknowledged that Bangladesh is in a critical stage regarding the impact of rapid climate change and that it is high time Bangladesh made preparation to face this. But while climate change impact and the rising sea-level pose serious threats to people, Bangladesh appears to be inadequately prepared to deal with the situation. Studies show that in 35 years, salinity has increased by about 26 per cent, spreading into non-coastal areas. The total area of salinity affected land was 83.3 million hectares in 1973, which rose to 105.6 million hectares in 2009.
The prime minister has also acknowledged that the balance in environment has been damaged because of climate change, with bio-diversity, agriculture and livelihood being severely affected, leaving coastal people to suffer from shortage of fresh water and livelihood sources. In 2017, a UNICEF report says, about 20 million coastal people were affected by water salinity. The report also projects that soil salinity will increase by an average of 26 per cent by 2050. The prime minister’s acknowledgement of the severity of climate change is heartening, but the absence of effective measures addressing it is worrying. Bangladesh is not known for pursuing climate-resilient development plans; it has, rather, taken and is still taking many development projects that completely disregard environment issues. A case in point is the recent clearance for ‘five air-polluting cement factories’ within six kilometres of the Sunderbans, whose biodiversity has already been at risk for the ongoing Rampal Power Plant project. Bangladesh is, as a study that Australia-based Market Forces and USA-based 350 conducted claims, on course of turning into a ‘carbon bomb’ by 2041 with 29 large coal power plants. Bangladesh also appears to be unwise in accessing climate funding and spending it on a fight against climate change impact.
Only the realisation of the gravity of climate change will not work, a well-thought and effective plan is what is also needed. The government must pursue a climate-resilient development plan that would minimise climate change effects. The government must also have a mechanism to record data on climate change and share the data with government and non-governmental agencies working on the issue.
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