While developed countries are scratching their heads over how to reverse climate change or how to deal with it, Bangladesh already has a head start. From growing rice in saline waters to creating mobile homes, the people of this nation are calling upon every innovative idea to assist in survival.
Canada is a nation that is greatly responsible for rising levels of carbon emissions that has resulted in the flooding of Bangladesh. But rather than play the blame game, steps that Canada takes to stop or reduce climate will benefit Bangladeshis and indirectly avert the very severe effects of climate change on Canada itself in the long run.
Enjoying my coffee as I sit at my desk in Canada, the thought of a sinking landmass and of millions of people being uprooted seems rather far-fetched. The 10 to 30 million Bangladeshis who will become climate refugees by the year 2100 due to rises in sea level would argue otherwise. What’s more is that by 2050, a sizable portion of Bangladesh’s landmass will be submerged. So what does all this mean for such a small nation with such a large population (164 million to be exact)?
Climate refugees are people who must leave their homes due to an environmental issue. In Bangladesh this “issue” manifests itself in cyclones, hurricanes and flooding. Of course, Bangladesh is a country prone to chronic flooding but coupled with the effects of global climate change, this habitual flooding results in catastrophic events of nature that leave many without roofs over their heads. In fact, in 2009, Cyclone Aila unleashed its fury on Munshiganj, a village of approximately 35,000 people who are primarily rice farmers and fishermen. Not only did it destroy homes, and killed hundreds of people, in the long run it salinated the rice fields, destroying the crop and contaminating drinking water. It is very clear that a cyclone of this level is only a glimpse of what is to come if the deteriorating effects of climate change continue to take their toll on this small nation. Areas of Bangladesh that are most at-risk are the coastal villages bordering the major rivers Padma, Meghna and Jamuna.
In Western countries, climate change is still a hazy idea, something that we can worry about later. Our plates are already full with financial meltdowns, global terrorism, international revolutions etc. But looking at Bangladesh should tell Western countries that they need to make some more room on their plate for climate refugees. Of course, a majority of people of Bangladesh will cross the border over to India but a global surge in number of refugees will surely affect all countries. While the Western industrialized countries have been giving funds to Bangladesh and its various NGOs that are trying to adapt to climate change, money will not be enough. Especially, not when industrialized nations are the ones largely responsible for rise in carbon emissions leading to global warming.
However, in Bangladesh, while money is definitely helpful, it is ideas that are truly getting at the heart of the solution. Bangladeshis accept climate change and many understand that the land they are living on will probably be submerged in the not so distant future, but they are also doing everything possible to brace themselves, adapt and go with the flow (no pun intended).
While developed countries are scratching their heads over how to reverse climate change or how to deal with it, Bangladesh already has a head start. From growing rice in saline waters to creating mobile homes, the people of this nation are calling upon every innovative idea to assist in survival. If anything, the most terribly affected place has become a “thinkbowl” for solutions to climate change. Prone to natural disasters from what seems like the beginning of time, Bangladesh has become very good at dealing with all that Mother Nature decides to throw at her, bending like bamboo but never breaking.
The effects of climate change are not limited to sinking landmasses; there is an array of related problems. The top priority in Bangladesh is food security- having 164 million mouths to feed is hardly an easy task. The International Union for Conservation of Nature predicts that crop yield could decrease by 30 percent by 2050 due to damage to rice fields and loss of land. But all hope is not lost, for the answer to the woes could lie in “salt-resistant rice”. Recall the destroyed crops due to salination of rice fields by Cyclone Aila; well this could be avoided if salt resistant rice came to replace the normal kind. Also, cyclone warnings transmitted directly to cell phones (which are widespread, even in rural areas) continue to prepare more Bangladeshis for the nuances of the weather.
But what does all of this have anything to do with you and me? What does a submerged nation with bright ideas mean to Canadians like us who do not feel the effects of climate change as they do? The answer is that it has everything to do with you and me.
First, we live in a nation that is a part of a world undergoing climate change. Like Bangladeshis, it will not be long before Canadians, too, have to worry about flood dykes and food security.
Next, climate change whether or not it yields anything else, is sure to yield refugees, and Canada undoubtedly will receive many of them. To address such a mass migration will require global cooperation and Canada will have to take initiative to assist the people.
Third, Canada is a nation that is greatly responsible for rising levels of carbon emissions that has resulted in the flooding of Bangladesh. But rather than play the blame game, steps that Canada takes to stop or reduce climate will benefit Bangladeshis and indirectly avert the very severe effects of climate change on Canada itself in the long run. Finally, Canadians can assist Bangladesh in the face of impending disaster by supporting programs such as population control and education for rural people, things that will increase the chances of survival and adaptation to climate change. Whether it is donations or volunteering, every helping hand counts.
Cyclones and floods may ravage the nation almost predictably, but the spirit of the Bangladeshi people is one that is unwilling to give in. From the farmer who builds a home that can be easily disassembled and reassembled in a different place, to the NGOs that educate families about nutrition and birth control, Bangladesh is a place where hope is anything but lost. Catastrophes that would destroy other nations have only made Bangladesh stronger and more able to face the challenges of climate change. Thus, while this seemingly doomed nation is a wake-up call for world, it is also an example to be learned from. The resilience, not of the flood dams, but of the Bangladeshi people will soon be needed by Western nations and so we should learn from them. Here are a people who are, literally, doing everything to keep their heads above water.
Jute farmers harvest unripe stalks due to early flooding from rise in sea levels. Photo from National Geographic (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/bangladesh/bendiksen-photography)
By Nazifa Islam