Are we comfortably numb about our climate migrants?

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 20 Aug 2017, 19:37:44
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Are we comfortably numb about our climate migrants?

Are we comfortably numb about our climate migrants?
Md Naibur RahmanUpol
Last two weeks had been undoubtedly eventful for all the Dhaka dwellers who not only welcomed Orlando Bloom, the famous Pirate of the Caribbean movie star, but the looming impact of climate change as well. The day-long pouring of rain surely made us ask the million-dollar question- when it's going to stop? And the day next when we were still wondering about the possible answer looking at our waterlogged pavement, news feed of social media with abetting images of public sufferings, suddenly we find the sun and ourselves smiling. But not for long! An hour later, we are exposed under the scorching sun with abject humidity that hits us so hard to abjure all our cravings for sunshine. The dilemma starts building up when the heavy pouring starts in the next morning again, continuing to making our loved city deadlocked. 

Our very own social media and print media must have actuated us enough to condemn overburdened Dhaka's incapability of accommodating 114300 people per square mile (Telegraph, 2016) with the current unsynchronised road and transport system, sewerage system and pitiable civic amenities. But have we ever considered that the two-edged climate change is slitting Dhaka city in both ways ultimately creating "climate migrants"? It’s high time we asked ourselves because we have never been stuck with sweating foreheads in waterlogged Dhaka due to the past days' heavy rain. However, don't think I have forgotten about Orlando Bloom!

Orlando Bloom had visited Bangladesh as part of his activities related to his involvement as goodwill ambassador of UNICEF. Obviously, that's not the first time that a foreign movie or television star is in Bangladesh to promote awareness about any relevant issue. This reminded me of Michael C. Hall or popularly known as Dexter, the lead actor in TV series "Dexter", who visited Bangladesh in 2013. It would have been really accomplishing if his visits were part of his famous TV series' any upcoming episode but sadly enough he was here to act in a full episode (Season 1, Episode 8) of Emmy award-winning documentary series "Years of Living Dangerously". The episode clearly investigated the manifold impact of climate change in Bangladesh and how it's going to overpopulate adjacent cities with its resultant climate migrants. 

It is needless to say the change in rainfall pattern had never been this evident but impacts are accosted excessively in agriculture sector. According to a recent study (Rahman, Ang, Nagabhatla & Macnee, 2017), the number of days without rain is increasing but the total annual rainfall is encountering an acclivity which poses threats in both forms-- draught and flood. This year's horrific flooding in Northern part of Bangladesh and also in the Sylhet region showed us the devastation that can actually cripple the food security system of Bangladesh. Referring to the data shown by Flood Forecasting centre (FFWC) on July 10, 2017, 70 out of 90 monitoring stations were experiencing significant increase in water level. At 13 points, the water level was beyond the danger level and looking it closely will help us realise it was way up the danger level.

Even when I am writing this article on August 15, 2017, FFWC is showing six stations-- Badarganj (Rangpur), Bahadurabad (Jamalpur), Sariakandi(Bogra), Kazipur (Sirajganj), Sirajganj and Jariajanjail (Netrokona) labelled as "Severe Flood" phase- more than 1m above danger level, while 23 other stations are labelled as "Flood" at and above danger level up to 1m, and 5 other stations are in "Warning" phase. (Source: Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, BWDB, 15th August 2017)

When we witness the short-run impacts as devastating as affecting 16,11,065 people (NDRCC report, July 19, 2017) directly from 50 upazillas due to flooding, we often irrationally become myopic towards the disaster in both rural and urban areas. The situation exacerbates especially when flood accompanied by cyclones render the lands very saline. These lands with imposed salinity often don't get washed away shortly as many of the agricultural lands affected in Sidr and Aila are still not out of extreme salinity. According to the Policy brief 2014, more salinity intrusion had been taking place due to climate change which will be taking its toll on agricultural lands. 

Now a farsighted approach will find the displaced people, due to this climate change-originated flood and cyclone, in nearest cities or the most popular city - Dhaka. According to Displacement Solutions, a non-profit association in Geneva, the government of Bangladesh acknowledges the fact that by 2050, 1 in every 7 Bangladeshi will be displaced due to climate change. But when a country like Bangladesh is growing with 3.27 per cent (World Bank, 2016) urban population growth, can over-boarded cities like Dhaka and Chittagong accommodate these climate migrants? Apparently, No. We all watched how our cities' respiratory system of transport and sewerage broke down after heavy pouring. Additionally, these economically fragile climate migrants are not expected to find a living space in Dhaka's posh parts, rather they start living in the slum areas accommodating the 36 per cent (Source: UN Habitat) of total urban population.

I often wonder about the luxury I wish I had about the existence, like so many in developed countries, but I certainly can't do that when I am living in the topmost affected country of climate change. It's real and we are feeling it every day. Bangladesh is still in the purgatory phase to defy the vicious cycle of climate change, creating climate change migrants, weakening the city's metabolism to ensure its productivity. But this needs to be addressed holistically because gone are those days when we can blame our city Mayors and their lack of synchronisation only for the coming apocalyptic downfall of Dhaka. Regardless of the climate sins committed by other countries, it is pushing our fellow Bangladeshi brothers and sisters to leave their homeland and we can't just let them live and create a horrendous life in city slums.

Last two weeks had been undoubtedly eventful for all the Dhaka dwellers who not only welcomed Orlando Bloom, the famous Pirate of the Caribbean movie star, but the looming impact of climate change as well. The day-long pouring of rain surely made us ask the million-dollar question- when it's going to stop? And the day next when we were still wondering about the possible answer looking at our waterlogged pavement, news feed of social media with abetting images of public sufferings, suddenly we find the sun and ourselves smiling. But not for long! An hour later, we are exposed under the scorching sun with abject humidity that hits us so hard to abjure all our cravings for sunshine. The dilemma starts building up when the heavy pouring starts in the next morning again, continuing to making our loved city deadlocked. 

Our very own social media and print media must have actuated us enough to condemn overburdened Dhaka's incapability of accommodating 114300 people per square mile (Telegraph, 2016) with the current unsynchronised road and transport system, sewerage system and pitiable civic amenities. But have we ever considered that the two-edged climate change is slitting Dhaka city in both ways ultimately creating "climate migrants"? It’s high time we asked ourselves because we have never been stuck with sweating foreheads in waterlogged Dhaka due to the past days' heavy rain. However, don't think I have forgotten about Orlando Bloom!

Orlando Bloom had visited Bangladesh as part of his activities related to his involvement as goodwill ambassador of UNICEF. Obviously, that's not the first time that a foreign movie or television star is in Bangladesh to promote awareness about any relevant issue. This reminded me of Michael C. Hall or popularly known as Dexter, the lead actor in TV series "Dexter", who visited Bangladesh in 2013. It would have been really accomplishing if his visits were part of his famous TV series' any upcoming episode but sadly enough he was here to act in a full episode (Season 1, Episode 8) of Emmy award-winning documentary series "Years of Living Dangerously". The episode clearly investigated the manifold impact of climate change in Bangladesh and how it's going to overpopulate adjacent cities with its resultant climate migrants. 

It is needless to say the change in rainfall pattern had never been this evident but impacts are accosted excessively in agriculture sector. According to a recent study (Rahman, Ang, Nagabhatla & Macnee, 2017), the number of days without rain is increasing but the total annual rainfall is encountering an acclivity which poses threats in both forms-- draught and flood. This year's horrific flooding in Northern part of Bangladesh and also in the Sylhet region showed us the devastation that can actually cripple the food security system of Bangladesh. Referring to the data shown by Flood Forecasting centre (FFWC) on July 10, 2017, 70 out of 90 monitoring stations were experiencing significant increase in water level. At 13 points, the water level was beyond the danger level and looking it closely will help us realise it was way up the danger level.

Even when I am writing this article on August 15, 2017, FFWC is showing six stations-- Badarganj (Rangpur), Bahadurabad (Jamalpur), Sariakandi(Bogra), Kazipur (Sirajganj), Sirajganj and Jariajanjail (Netrokona) labelled as "Severe Flood" phase- more than 1m above danger level, while 23 other stations are labelled as "Flood" at and above danger level up to 1m, and 5 other stations are in "Warning" phase. (Source: Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, BWDB, 15th August 2017)

When we witness the short-run impacts as devastating as affecting 16,11,065 people (NDRCC report, July 19, 2017) directly from 50 upazillas due to flooding, we often irrationally become myopic towards the disaster in both rural and urban areas. The situation exacerbates especially when flood accompanied by cyclones render the lands very saline. These lands with imposed salinity often don't get washed away shortly as many of the agricultural lands affected in Sidr and Aila are still not out of extreme salinity. According to the Policy brief 2014, more salinity intrusion had been taking place due to climate change which will be taking its toll on agricultural lands. 

Now a farsighted approach will find the displaced people, due to this climate change-originated flood and cyclone, in nearest cities or the most popular city - Dhaka. According to Displacement Solutions, a non-profit association in Geneva, the government of Bangladesh acknowledges the fact that by 2050, 1 in every 7 Bangladeshi will be displaced due to climate change. But when a country like Bangladesh is growing with 3.27 per cent (World Bank, 2016) urban population growth, can over-boarded cities like Dhaka and Chittagong accommodate these climate migrants? Apparently, No. We all watched how our cities' respiratory system of transport and sewerage broke down after heavy pouring. Additionally, these economically fragile climate migrants are not expected to find a living space in Dhaka's posh parts, rather they start living in the slum areas accommodating the 36 per cent (Source: UN Habitat) of total urban population.

I often wonder about the luxury I wish I had about the existence, like so many in developed countries, but I certainly can't do that when I am living in the topmost affected country of climate change. It's real and we are feeling it every day. Bangladesh is still in the purgatory phase to defy the vicious cycle of climate change, creating climate change migrants, weakening the city's metabolism to ensure its productivity. But this needs to be addressed holistically because gone are those days when we can blame our city Mayors and their lack of synchronisation only for the coming apocalyptic downfall of Dhaka. Regardless of the climate sins committed by other countries, it is pushing our fellow Bangladeshi brothers and sisters to leave their homeland and we can't just let them live and create a horrendous life in city slums.

The writer is a development consultant. md.naibur.rahman@gmail.com
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