The rising tides of climate change and the challenge for Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s people are resilient. At a public forum at the Hawke Centre in Adelaide, one of the scheduled speakers, Dr MA Quassem, was unable to attend due to serious illness. In his place, two academics from Bangladesh stood up to explain the challenges facing their disaster-ravaged country.
Ifti Rashid of the Independent University of Bangladesh wanted to make one thing clear. “We are not here to beg,” he said. “We are looking for resilience, not relief.”
He spoke first with immense pride of his country’s achievements on a world stage. The Bangladesh prime minister and leader of the opposition are both women. This fact was received with a burst of applause. Ifti stated that Bangladesh is also the first country in the world to incorporate climate change into its constitution. The news was reported on, while still in early stages, by humanitarian news providers such as AlertNet. The constitutional amendment of note reads that, “The state shall take appropriate response measures, including mitigation and adaptation, against anthropogenic-accelerated global-warming-induced climate change and sea-level rise.”
Recognising global warming in the constitution may be progressive, but for a country like Bangladesh, it takes on an added urgency.
Bangladesh is the most climate vulnerable country in the world. Two-thirds of the country is less than five metres above sea level and in an average year a quarter of the country is inundated. Criss-crossed by 230 rivers, Bangladesh lies at the delta of the powerful Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers.
Fulbright scholar Harunur Bhuyan paid respect to Australia for our recent devastating Queensland floods, a natural disaster. As an appeal to empathy he explained that Bangladesh experiences one or more natural disasters every year. Harunur spent much of his research talking to flood-affected communities in Bangladesh including interviews with grassroots NGOs. The message was clear. The locals do not want overseas monetary aid, but rather technological support, training and research.
Fran Baum from the Peoples’ Health Movement spoke about the critical health impacts of climate change, particularly food security issues. Climate change tipping point is when damage becomes irreversible. Fran likened trying to gauge tipping point to blindly pushing a glass of water across a table – we won’t know when tipping point is, until it all comes crashing down.
Even in Australia, we are seeing the effects of sea level rise. Brian Caton from Flinders University said that the Australian sea level rose 17 centimetres over the last century and continues to rise. Measuring the distance between two hands, he said it doesn’t look like much, but it is significant. Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gasses today, we still have several centuries of sea level rise to contend with. While Australia has accumulated wealth to adapt, the reality is that climate change hits poor people and poor countries the hardest.
In Bangladesh, people are seeing their land and livelihoods washed away, every year. The world needs to take action.
By Freya Dougan-Whaite
Image credit: Oxfam International