Thursday, August 02, 2007

Climate of Fear: Bangladesh and India

This article on the impact of climate change in Bangladesh is six months old, but does a nice job of showing how its is the multiple systemic failures in Bangladesh that make it particularly vulnerable to climate change:

Every year these waterways burst their banks as rainwater and ice melt sluice down from the Himalayas towards the Bay of Bengal.

Cyclones and tornadoes pummel the coast annually, bringing further misery to a country slightly larger than England, yet crammed with 145 million people. Local sea levels appear to be rising, and summer temperatures climbing, causing droughts in the north west.

The result is a "perfect storm" of environmental factors that could make Bangladesh the first significant country to be destroyed by climate change. "Bangladesh is in such a difficult position because all these factors — geographical, demographic, political and climatic — have conspired together," said Atiq Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies and an IPCC member. "It is a test case for the rest of the world."

He predicts that if the sea rises by a metre — as some scientists say it will by 2100 — a quarter of Bangladesh will be submerged, forcing 30 to 40 million people from their homes.

As floods have pushed sea- water far inland, contaminating paddy fields and water supplies, thousands of farmers, like Mr Gain, have turned their paddy fields into shrimp farms. They earn more cash, but are less well-off because they no longer have their own food supplies. That leads to malnutrition and disease.

The obvious horror in all this is the looming humanitarian catastrophe. But from an analytical perspective, the really frightening question is: where will all those refugees go? Some will flood into the overcrowded Bangladeshi cities of the North, but many are likely to go (or attempt to go) to India, a country itself acutely vulnerable to climate-related crises. In other words, even aside from the direct impact of climate change on India itself, the impact of climate change on its neighbors is likely to cripple India's growth and stability.

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