Bangladesh villages bear the brutal cost of climate change
SHYAMNAGAR – With each tide, Abdus Satter sees the sea erode his life a little more.
Its village of Bonnotola in southwest Bangladesh, with its muddy roads and tin-roofed houses, was once home to more than 2,000 people. Most were farmers like Satter, 58. Then the rising seas poisoned the ground with salt water. Two cyclones in the past two years have destroyed the mud embankments that protected the village from tidal waves.
Today, only 480 people remain, the rest being homeless by the sea.
The effects of global warming – particularly the increase in cyclones and coastal flooding and tides that bring salt water further inland – are devastating Bangladesh and destroying the livelihoods of millions of people, said Mohammad Shamsuddoha, Director General of the Nonprofit Center for the Development of Participatory Research.
“This is a serious concern for a country like Bangladesh,” he said, adding that projections show that some 30 million people could be displaced from the coastal regions of the country.
With world leaders meeting in Glasgow, Scotland for a United Nations climate conference this week, countries like Bangladesh are pushing for more financial support to deal with global warming.
A ten-year-old deal for rich countries to give poor countries $ 100 billion every year to switch to clean energy and adapt to climate change has been broken. Even the money provided – around $ 80 billion in 2019 – is too scattered to make much of a difference on the ground.
In Gabura, another village in the Bengal Delta, Nazma Khatun, 43, struggles to feed her two daughters. Half of her meager daily income – less than $ 3 from sewing and selling fabrics – goes to cure skin conditions, she says, from which everyone in the village suffers due to the elevation from sea level, which has contaminated land and water.
âWe have water everywhere, but we don’t have a drop to drink in ponds or wells,â she said.
This land was once fertile. Khatun said mango and jackfruit thrive and everyone grows vegetables in their garden, relying on ponds, rivers and wells for drinking water.
âNow that’s impossible. See the pond here, the fresh water is gone, âshe said.
In 1973, 833,000 hectares (3,216 square miles) of land was affected by advancing seawater, accelerated by more frequent cyclones and higher tides that contaminated water supplies. It’s bigger than the US state of Delaware.
This increased to 1.02 million hectares (3,938 square miles) in 2000 and 1.056 million hectares (4,077 square miles) in 2009, according to the Soil Resources Development Institute of Bangladesh. Soil salinity has increased by 26% over the past 35 years.
In the village of Bonbibi Tola, women gather daily at a hand-pumped well to collect water for cooking and drinking. Women walk up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) carrying water daily.
But that won’t last long. The wells in the region only have fresh water in the months following the monsoon rains. In summer, when the flow of Himalayan rivers decreases, fresh water becomes scarce, said one of the women, Maheswari Halder.
“This is the fate we are all surrendering to,” she said.
The three villages are in the Shyamnagar region in southwestern Bangladesh, which is home to 400,000 people. Officials say the government lacks funding for additional desalination plants to convert salt water into fresh water.
âThe region may need 500 desalination plants. But we only have about 50, âsaid Alamgir Kabir, director of a local NGO, the Nawabenki Ganomukhi Foundation.
Although it saw its gross domestic product grow from $ 6.2 billion in 1972 to $ 305 billion in 2019, Bangladesh alone cannot pay the cost of global warming. There are only six countries in the world most affected by climate change from 2000 to 2019, according to the nonprofit Germanwatch 2021 Climate Change Performance Index. During these years, Bangladesh lost 0.41% of its gross domestic product due to climate change, and a single cyclone in 2019 caused losses of $ 8.1 billion,
Nor should it, says Abul Kalam Azad, the country’s special envoy to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of nations most threatened by the predicted impacts of a warmer future. Bangladesh, a country of around 160 million people, has historically contributed a fraction of global emissions, yet the country is devastated by climate change, he said.
Azad says that aid in the form of high-cost loans would help, but low-cost loans combined with grants would help.
Environmental activists say radical change is needed in the international debate on climate assistance to ensure a steady increase in funding for poor and vulnerable nations from a variety of public and private sources.
âYou also need to make sure that at least 50% of the funds are spent on adaptation (to climate change) because people are on the front lines,â said Jennifer Morgan, director of Greenpeace International.
Speaking to fellow leaders on Monday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh raised the thorny issue of top polluters paying compensation for the destruction caused by global warming.
âThe issue of loss and damage needs to be addressed, including the global sharing of responsibilities for climate migrants and people displaced by rising sea levels, rising salinity, erosion of rivers, floods, droughts, âshe said.
The 2015 Paris Agreement already contains a provision on this subject. Article 8 states that the parties to the pact ârecognize the importance of avoiding, minimizing and addressing the loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.
âUnfortunately, no penny has been paid for the loss and damage,â Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development, said in a recent documentary.
Huq argues that an oil spill compensation fund offers a model for how big polluters, especially fossil fuel companies, could provide funds to countries whose islands have been washed away or farms deserted due to of global warming.
Rich countries like the United States are wary of any suggestion that they could be legally responsible for their decades-long greenhouse gas emissions that have lingered in the atmosphere.
But tackling those issues in Glasgow will be key, Huq said. âOtherwise, developing countries, especially the most vulnerable countries, will see the (conference) as a failure.
For Satter, it may already be too late.
Every morning waves break over his house and soon he, his wife and two sons will have to flee. The sea ripped away their future and their past, he said, pointing to a muddy trench that was once a courtyard where his parents’ graves were located.
âIt’s just a matter of time,â he said.
Ghosal reported from New Delhi. Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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