Vulnerable communities in Bangladesh to be worst hit by climate crisis

Bangladesh and Maldives, amongst others, are the most afflicted and vulnerable victims of environmental pollution and climate change, Write Akmal Hossain for South Asia Monitor

Akmal Hossain Jan 22, 2020
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Greta Thunberg, the icon of climate protest movements across the world, has become the global source of inspiration for protection against calamities and other negative consequences of climate change and environmental pollution. Her words: "You have stolen my dreams with your empty words" reflect the certainty of the existing climate crisis, the main threat to the existence of humanity today. Earlier, Rachel Carson’s prolific write up the Silent Spring (1962) helped us understand the costs of environmental damage and climate change on animals and plants life due to the excessive use of insecticides and fertilizers.

But unfortunately, until the end of the 20th century, people including politicians and scientists, were unresponsive to the imminent devastating impacts of climate change on life and biodiversity. The reasons for scientists’ insensitivity were simple and straightforward: Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) would provide them funds and facilities to serve their interests.

It is needless to talk about the detrimental impacts of climate change that are visible in many parts of the world and, of course, in Bangladesh. Recent wildfires in the Amazon forest of Brazil destroyed millions of hectares of forests and made them unliveable for wildlife.  Startling and bewildering bushfires in South-eastern Australia, in addition, have killed approximately one billion animals and destroyed 15.6 million hectares of forestland. Bushfires, of course, have emitted tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases, which are mainly responsible for climate change and pollution, into the environment.

These examples show how our beautiful earth is going to become a veritable desert. Every year millions of people face unnecessary death due to various diseases caused by climate change and air pollution. Moreover, thousands of people are displaced due to erosion of river banks and unpredictably low or high temperatures, that hampers food production processes.

In this perspective of climate change and crisis, who would benefit and who would suffer is a vital question. Though the climate crisis is ongoing, not everyone or every nation is equally responsible for the world’s frightening changes. Bangladesh or the Maldives, for example, do not share equal blame or responsibilities, like the USA and China, for polluting the environment and damaging the ozone layer - the protector against ultra-violet (UV) rays that are harmful for the human body. 

Some developed nations and many MNCs and TNCs will be benefited from the climate change crisis. Rising temperatures melt the icebergs and the world’s poles where most of the icecaps are found. Melting ice-caps help uncover the lands beneath the frozen snow and can now become the source of opportunity to build industries, farms and cultivation for some developed countries. Reports predict that the USA, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and some other countries will get this opportunity.

In contrast, underdeveloped and developing countries would suffer massively due to climate change and environment pollution. It will reduce their food production capacity, increase food shortages and may bring floods and famine. Bangladesh and Maldives, amongst others, are the most afflicted and vulnerable victims of environmental pollution and climate change.

According to an October 2019 report of Climate Central (CC), a US-based non-profit organization and research institute, nearly 300 million people can be affected across the world by 2050 due to climate change and environmental pollution that increases the sea level. The most affected countries are in Asia – China -83 million, Bangladesh -42 million, India -36 million, Vietnam -31 million, Indonesia -23 million and Thailand -12 million.  

This report of Climate Central indicates 42 million people of Bangladesh will be vulnerable through other previous reports had predicted about 20 to 30 million, nearly half of this prediction. In addition, around 20% of the southern part of Bangladesh may go under seawater. If 44 million people are being displaced from the coastal zones of Bangladesh, the new economic, social and political burden will have to be carried by the rest of the country.

Many studies found that approximately US$26 billion worth of agricultural damage will take place by 2025 in Bangladesh due to acute weather mismatches with time schedules of crop production and other natural disasters such as increasing salinity, drought and frequent floods.

In the climate crisis, the ultimate victims are poor people, poor nations and poor communities. Due to low capacity, the socio-economic dimensions of vulnerability would increase manifold among the vulnerable communities of Bangladesh. Likewise, the vulnerability of biodiversity - considered the ultimate bounty of nature - will be influenced heavily by climate factors.

Therefore, where is the solution? The ultimate solution to the climate crisis can be seen in the desires of great powers and their politicians. It is easy to talk but the action is what we need to tackle the problem. At least four reasons can be seen as obstacles to the climate crisis. Firstly, the conflict between the collective good and national interest among countries. Secondly, strains between developed and developing nations. Third and fourth are economic scarcity and differences of ideology, respectively.

Finally, it can be said that climate change has become the battlefield among countries about taking responsibility for those catastrophic changes. But whatsoever has happened, a ‘winner takes all’ policy is taking place. This type of complete inaction perfectly reflects the words of Marshal McLuhan: “There is no passenger on spaceship earth; we are all crew,” due to the environmental and climate crises which have become global issues now.

(The writer is a Researcher at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh)