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14 June 2024

Climate change – the biggest threat to Bangladesh

Karamot Ullah Biplob

Published: 05:06, 18 September 2023

Climate change – the biggest threat to Bangladesh

Photo : TDM

In the face of numerous threats and concerns related to climate change, international organizations are increasingly recognizing river erosion as a critical issue for Bangladesh. Every year, between 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of valuable land are lost to the relentless force of river erosion, resulting in the disappearance of at least 100,000 hectares of land over the past two decades alone. This staggering loss translates to a financial burden of Tk 2 lakh crores, with approximately Tk 1 lakh crore spent in the last 20 years to combat this escalating crisis. Recent statistics from the World Bank have shed light on the gravity of the situation, putting it into stark perspective.

In a comprehensive study spanning from 1967 to 2017, NASA has reported that the Padma breach alone has witnessed the loss of 66,000 hectares or 660 square kilometers of land due to erosion. This astounding figure is equivalent to three times the size of Dhaka city. Indeed, Padma has earned the dubious distinction of being identified as the most erosive river globally by NASA. Adding to these concerns, the United Nations' highest climate change panel, the IPCC, has categorized river erosion as the single most significant disaster risk confronting Bangladesh.

Research conducted by various organizations has estimated that roughly 4 million people in the northern regions of Bangladesh have already fallen victim to the destructive force of river erosion. This number is projected to rise to a staggering 10 million by 2030 if immediate measures are not implemented. At present, an alarming average of 200,000 lives are lost annually due to river erosion, driving desperate individuals and families to abandon their villages in pursuit of livelihoods and employment opportunities in burgeoning cities.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), having identified river erosion as the most formidable problem in Bangladesh eight years ago, has drawn attention to its severe ramifications on the nation's socio-economic fabric. Despite the colossal scale of this disaster, there is a notable absence of a comprehensive national or international plan aimed at mitigating its devastating impact.

Recent years have witnessed an alarming increase in the severity of river erosion, resulting in significant alterations to the geographical landscape. This phenomenon has led to the transformation of maps detailing the boundaries of numerous neighborhoods, unions, and upazilas. Furthermore, the shifting course of border rivers is redefining the very borders of the nation, as emphasized by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Service (CEGIS).

Researchers have diligently sought to uncover the root causes of the escalating river erosion crisis, particularly in border areas. They have identified that the 54 international rivers coursing through Bangladesh, including the Brahmaputra, Padma, Jamuna, and Meghna, bear the brunt of the damage. Among these, the Jamuna river stands out as the most vulnerable to erosion due to the distinctive features of its riverbank formation. Padma, too, faces myriad challenges, including excessive silt deposition, alterations in river course due to various development projects, and encroachment as well as filling of its numerous branches and sub-branches.

Beyond the major rivers, other waterways such as Teesta, Dharla, Atrai, Old Brahmaputra, Kushiyara, Khowai, Surma, Monu, Juri, Sangu, Dholai, Gomti, Matamuhuri, Modhumoti, Sandha, and Bishkhali also stand as vulnerable targets of erosion. At least 150 locations along these rivers are currently experiencing significant issues related to erosion.

The diminishing arable land in Bangladesh, coupled with its rapidly increasing population, is exerting mounting pressure on major cities as refugees from river floods seek shelter and sustenance. The future appears uncertain, and the situation is dire. While it may not be entirely feasible to avert such colossal natural disasters, it is imperative to take every possible precaution to minimize the devastating effects of river erosion. This effort necessitates a collaborative approach, drawing upon not only national but also international support, advice, and coordinated planning to address this monumental challenge. Time is of the essence, and the people of Bangladesh deserve a resolute response to this burgeoning crisis before it exacts an even greater toll on the nation.

The writer is Executive President, South Asian Climate Change Journalists Forum