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The climate crisis in Bangladesh - The YEARS Project

The climate crisis in Bangladesh

Many countries are at risk to the catastrophic effects of climate change, but Bangladesh has been facing the worst effects for years. Bangladesh is small, but its densely populated cities are home to over 160 million people. Decades of increasingly more severe storms, catastrophic flooding, and relentless land erosion is causing this already small nation to disappear.

While the country was no stranger to harsh weather, now because of climate change, these once manageable storms are wreaking havoc and changing weather patterns, leaving them underprepared. The emissions of greenhouse gases by the rest of the world is putting the lives of Bangladeshi citizens at risk. And it’s only expected to get worse. 

Bangladesh’s sea level is projected to rise 1.5 meters by 2050, submerging nearly a fifth of their land and expected to displace millions of people. But Bangladeshi’s are already being displaced. The increase in storms is pushing more water inland. In 2016, Cyclone Roanu caused disastrous landslides. That same year, three more cyclones formed in the Bay of Bengal. In 2017, monsoon season started weeks earlier than usual and the country faced some of the worst flooding in their history – leaving residents with no time to prepare. Thousands of homes and rice crops were destroyed, and families were left struggling to afford food. Two years later, Cyclone Bulbul swept the country, forcing over 2 million people into cyclone shelters. And then in May of this year, Cyclone Amphan became the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal. It killed dozens of people across the Bengal region and left nearly half a million people homeless. This damage is just the beginning. 

Climate change is tipping the country like a row of dominoes. The storms are damaging crops, leading to food shortages, which is also adding to the growing migration crisis. A large portion of those being forced to move are farmers. Millions of people in Bangladesh rely on rice farming for food and income. Rising sea levels are bringing salt water into crop lands, rendering the soil no longer viable. Salt water contamination is also affecting the drinking water sources of nearly 33 million people, leaving them more vulnerable to health problems such as hypertension, pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, cardiovascular diseases, and can also increase infant mortality. All these factors have caused the World Bank to predict 13 million people, mainly from coastal communities, will be forced to move towards the center of the country by 2050. Farmers and coastal residents head towards city regions like Dhaka, located in the heart of Bangladesh. But with a growing population twice the size of New York City and numerous infrastructure challenges like limited resources and funding, Dhaka cannot handle the mass of migrants seeking shelter every year. In order to avoid these issues, some migrants have to abandon their homeland and head across the border into India. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Bangladeshi migrants are already residing there illegally. However, with growing anti-immigration tensions rising and depleting resources, the situation  could become violent. 

But these issues are not being ignored by the Bangladesh government. They understand the severity of this crisis and remain dedicated to protecting their citizens and prioritizing the fight against climate change. More than $400 million was put into their Climate Change Trust to help finance climate adaptation and mitigation projects. The government is investing in building projects such as submersible roads that can withstand floods. In 2009, the country adopted a comprehensive climate action plan. They are also focusing on building a more resilient country by ensuring money for climate change planning is being spread through all their ministries, like housing, food, energy, and agriculture.

While all of Bangladesh’s efforts show promise, without enough international support, they will continue to remain extremely vulnerable to climate change. According to BCAS, the country will need around $5 billion per year to achieve climate change adaptation and mitigation by 2030. Unfortunately, even with both domestic and international investments, they have nowhere near that amount. There is only so much Bangladesh can afford to invest when they have numerous issues to deal with such as extreme poverty, development, and the recent Rohingya refugee crisis where over 700,000 refugees from Myanmar sought shelter in Bangladesh to avoid persecution.

 Not only should international aid be stronger, major global polluters must understand that their environmentally destructive actions are causing the countries who have contributed to climate change the least, to be affected by it the most. It is an environmental injustice that the burden of today’s climate crisis falls on the countries that have not caused it. Despite all of Bangladesh’s efforts, they will be useless without a proper international response. Their attempts to stop this fire that is the climate crisis will only do so much against a world that is continuously pouring fuel on it.