Saturday, June 8, 2013

As Extreme Weather Increases, Bangladesh Braces for the Worst

As Extreme Weather Increases, Bangladesh Braces for the Worst

Scientists are predicting that warming conditions will bring more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Their warnings hit home in densely populated Bangladesh, which historically has been hit by devastating sea surges and cyclones.

by Brian Fagan

Melting ice sheets, calving glaciers and rising sea levels: scenarios of impending inundation fill the news, while climate change skeptics assure us that these are long-term problems, part of the natural cycle of things. One thing is certain: These are multi-decade changes in a warming world, which we’re tempted to leave to future generations.
But as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy forcibly reminded us here in the United States, warming brings more extreme weather events — and the catastrophic inundations that accompany them. In the short term, destructive and very expensive sea surges are the most immediate consequence of rising sea levels. And nothing provides a more sobering reminder of our vulnerability than the awesome cyclones that often accompany these surges in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh lies at the head of the Bay of Bengal, the world’s largest river delta formed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers. Water covers some 10,000 square kilometers of the country, most of which lies close to sea level. An arabesque of waterways large and small cuts through. Between 1947 and 1988, 13 severe cyclones ravaged the lowlands of Bangladesh, killing thousands.the coastal plain. In the past, a unique mosaic of beach and tidal forests, as well as dense mangrove swamps, acted as a cushion against sea surges and cyclones. Two hundred years ago, more than 11,000 square kilometers of mangrove swamps and forests protected the coast. 

But today, this natural coastal barrier is under threat from promiscuous forest clearance for agricultural land, from shrimp farming, and from the construction of barrages for irrigation works. Most natural coastal protection is gone.

Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Very interesting and informative post Brian Fagan. 

Climate change poses significant risks for Bangladesh. The impacts of higher temperatures, more variable precipitation, more extreme weather events, and sea level rise are already felt in Bangladesh and will continue to intensify. The impacts result not only from gradual changes in temperature and sea level but also, in particular, from increased climate variability and extreme events, including more intense floods, droughts, and storms.

It is predicted that climate change could have devastating impact on agriculture. Agriculture is a key economic driver in Bangladesh, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the GDP and 65 percent of the labor force. The performance of this sector has considerable influence on overall growth, the trade balance, and the level and structure of poverty and malnutrition. 

Moreover, much of the rural population, especially the poor, is reliant on the agriculture as a critical source of livelihoods and employment.

The impacts of climate change could affect agriculture in Bangladesh in many ways:

- The predicted sea-level rise will threaten valuable coastal agricultural land, particularly in low-lying areas. 

- Biodiversity would be reduced in some of the most fragile environments, such as Sundarbans and tropical forests. 

- Climate unpredictability will make planning of farm operations more difficult.

The effects of these impacts will threaten food security for the most vulnerable people of Bangladesh. The country’s agriculture sector is already under stress from lack of productivity and population growth. Any further attempt to increase productivity will likely to add pressure to available land and water resources.

These changes are already having major impacts on the economic performance of Bangladesh and on the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people. 

Various models predict the nations vulnerability. Bangladesh is the most vulnerable nation due to global climate change in the world according to German Watch’s Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) of 2011. This is based on the analysis of impacts of major climate events that occurred around the world in the twenty year period since 1990. The reasons are complex and extremely intertwined.

Located at the bottom of the mighty GBM river system (Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Meghna) there are a total of 57 trans-boundary rivers coming down to it; 54 from neighbouring India and 3 from Myanmar. The country which has no control of the water flow and volume drains to the Bay of Bengal over 90% of the total run-off generated annually. Coupled with the high level of widespread povertyand increasing population density, limited adaptive capacity and poorly funded, ineffective local governance has made the region one of the most adversely affected in the planet. There are an estimated one thousand people in each square kilometre with the national population increasing by 2 million people each year.

By 2020, anywhere from 500- 750 million people are projected to be affected by water availability due to climate change around the world. Low-lying coastal regions, such as Bangladesh are vulnerable to the Sea level rise and increased occurrence of intense, extreme weather conditions such as the cyclones from 2007–2009. In most countries such as Bangladesh, yields from rain fed agriculture could be reduced to 50% by 2020. And for a country with increasing population and hunger, this will have an extremely adverse effect on food security. Although effects of climate change are highly variable, by 2030, South Asia could lose 10% of rice and maize yields, while neighbouring states like Pakistan could experience a 50% reduction in crop yield.

As a result of all this, Bangladesh would need to prepare for long term adaptation, which could be as drastic as changed sowing dates due to seasonal variations, introducing different varieties and species, to practicing novel water supply and irrigation systems. In essence, we have to identify all present vulnerabilities and future opportunities, adjusting priorities, at times even changing commodity and trade policies in the agricultural sector while promoting training and education throughout the masses in all possible sphere.

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