Dealing with climate change

Dhaka,  Tue,  19 September 2017
Published : 11 Aug 2017, 20:02:35
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Dealing with climate change

The government's renaming of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change testifies to its political commitment to deal with climate change as a new challenge for Bangladesh, writes Rahman Jahangir
The renaming of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change testifies to the government's political commitment to deal with climate change as a new challenge for Bangladesh. The fourth meeting of the National Committee on Environment at the Prime Minister's Office in Dhaka last week approved the renaming. The meeting also approved the draft of the National Environment Policy-2017 and the Country Investment Plan (CIP) on environment, forests and climate change.  The national committee also adopted a proposal in principle to allow environment-friendly industries in the ecologically critical areas in Mongla and Sundarbans areas. 

This year, Bangladesh saw fallout of climate change hitting its economy hard. Food crops estimated to be of one million metric tones were simply washed away by sudden flash floods in grain-rich Haor (wetlands) areas of the country. Moreover, unexpected heavy rains inundated many crop-fields of the country. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people in the flood-hit areas have migrated to Dhaka, Chittagong and other divisional headquarters making these cities overcrowded. The vagaries of nature might have led the government to add climate change to the Ministry of Environment and Forests so that Bangladeshis could be made aware of do's and don'ts in such a situation.  The decision too unveils the government's readiness to face the new challenge. 

Bangladesh has already ranked sixth among the world's top 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events in the last 20 years, according to the Global Climate Risk Index by think-tank Germanwatch. According to its findings, on an average, a total of 679.05 people died in 185 climatic events in Bangladesh within the period of 1996 to 2015. As a result, the country lost 0.7324 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Bangladesh sits at the head of the Bay of Bengal. The sea surface temperatures have seen a marked rise over the years. Scientists estimate the climate change in the Bay could lead to one of the largest mass migrations in human history.

The impact of climate change on low-income countries like Bangladesh, is compounded by high population density, low resource base, high incidence of natural disasters, salinity intrusion and submergence of land due to sea level rise. The situation would become disastrous with even a metre rise of sea level due to global warming, as it would inundate a fifth of Bangladesh, displacing nearly 30 million people and leading to mass movement of people. 

There has been an alarming decline in food production in rice, wheat, and maize production due to climate change. This will result in additional price increases threatening food security. For Bangladesh, it means loss of about four million metric tons of food grain, worth around two billion US dollars - that is, about 2.0 per cent of the GDP. If one adds up all the other damages, the total loss would be 3.0 to 4.0 per cent of GDP. Without this loss, the GDP growth would have risen remarkably, allowing substantial growth in employment and food production, greater resource allocation to health, education, and other priority sectors.

Around six million people have already been displaced from their homes due to the effects of climate change in Bangladesh, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said. Increased temperature and variations in rainfall are the most prevalent elements of climate change affecting the lives and livelihoods of Bangladeshi people in recent years, according to the study of IOM. The study, conducted in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Nepal by Displacement Solutions, an international organisation dedicated to resolving cases of forced displacement across the world, was presented at a Regional Dissemination Meeting on 'Assessing the Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration Nexus in South Asia' in Dhaka.

The coastal districts of the country are very vulnerable to cyclones, storm surges, tidal floods, salinity intrusion and sea level rise, while the regions in north and north-east of Bangladesh are susceptible to drought, flashfloods and riverine floods, making people's lives difficult. The study, carried out among 320 households in four separate upazilas of Khulna, Patuakhali, Rajshahi and Sunamganj on Bangladesh, also underscored that climate change and environmental degradation will further contribute to the movement of people living in the region. According to another report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), around 9.6 million people in the country will migrate due to climatic factors between 2011 and 2050, excluding temporary and seasonal migrations.

It indeed augurs well that Bangladesh is one of the first among least developed countries to form the Climate Change Trust Fund without relying on others to face the adverse impacts of climate change. It is called

Since 2009, the government has been mobilising  own resources and people to address the existential threat. 

It is against this backdrop that the government should take effective steps to address concerns of the Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) on misuse of scarce climate funds. The TIB has alleged that climate change funds are being allocated on the strength of influence of local ministers and lawmakers instead of the severity of the threat. According to a TIB study titled 'Climate Financing and Local Government Institutions: Good Governance in Project Implementation', political influence plays a significant role in allocating budgets from the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund for initiating different climate change resilience projects by local government institutions. Due to lack of good governance, projects are approved for such areas which are comparatively less endangered than others, it said.

In most of the cases, contracts for implementing the projects are awarded in political consideration, nepotism or illegal underhand dealings, the study also revealed. The TIB conducted the study on six projects implemented by city corporations, district councils and municipalities at different corners across the country. Data were collected in between March and November 2016.

Such irregularities have virtually frustrated the government's noble efforts to combat vulnerability and endangerment due to climate change.

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