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Bangladesh drowning: A reality or a myth?

Once again Bangladesh has been made the worst example, this time of the impacts of global warming. It is being said, one-third of Bangladesh will go under seawater in next 50 years due to the sea level rise being caused by the climate change. Drowning of Bangladesh is now a hot topic in the international arena.

No denying that a great part of Bangladesh, the largest delta in the world, is low lying, very usual for a delta. But when we talk of the impacts of global warming on Bangladesh, we must not forget or ignore the fact that it’s a dynamic delta and its landmass is still growing, at the same time the land being raised by gradual deposition of silt.

Due to global warming, to which the contribution of Bangladesh is minimal, the rate of local relative sea level rise is 7 mm a year around the coastal areas of the country. An alarming trend indeed for the future, but this is only the one side of the coin. The other side is that the average sediment accumulation rate for the last few hundred years in the coastal areas of Bangladesh is 5-6 mm a year. What we see is that the sea level rises 7 mm/year and the land rises 5-6 mm/year; it means the relative sea level rise in the coastal areas of Bangladesh is 1-2 mm/year. The elevation of the Barisal town, which stands only at a distance of about 90 kilometers from the coastline, is 3 meters above Mean Sea Level. So to reach up to Barisal town level, the sea will take 1,000 (one thousand) years, if its level rises at 3 mm/year. This is one aspect of the picture; and the other aspect is that the coastline of Bangladesh is not static, rather progressing outward due to the fact that tremendous amount of silt being deposited on the shore in the Meghna estuary, causing land accretion.

Each year about 2.4 billion tons of sediment from the Himalayas is carried by the rivers of Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal, and deposited on the continental shelf causing accretion of land to the coast of the country. The high sediment load results in a net accretion of about 35 square kilometers of land per year to Bangladesh.

Satellite pictures say of new land measuring no less than 20,000 (twenty thousand) square kilometers being formed in the Bay of Bengal in the coastal zones of Bangladesh.

Inhabitants on our coastal islands, Neejhum Deep, Char Kukrimukri, Char Jabbar etc, know that how every year new shoals in our coastal zones are coming up, and how the water is getting more and more shallow between these shoals. We know Bangladesh has been formed over tens of thousands of years through the settling down of sediment on the bed of the Bay. Only about three thousand years back one of our seaports was near Gopalganj in Faridpur district. We can see how far the coastline of our country has extended during the last three millennia.

Unfortunately, the land formation at the western coastal zone of the country has almost stopped due to the presence of the Swath of no Ground with a depth of more than 200 fathoms, which starts a few kilometers south of the Sundarbans forest coastline. The depth of the sea at our coast is five to ten fathoms. This Swath of no Ground swallows up the sediment load carried out to the Bay by the rivers thus hindering new land formation in this coastal zone. But the central and eastern regions of our coast are very active in terms of formation of new lands as these dynamic regions are shallow in depth.

Certainly global warming is a great threat not only to Bangladesh, but to the whole world; and we must fight against this threat hand in hand with rest of the world. We must make all our efforts to stop further warming up of the global climate, and then get it cooling down; but we, the people of Bangladesh, must not lend our ear to those painting a very gloomy picture saying Bangladesh is going to be the worst effected country, whose one-third or a big part will go under sea due to global warming in next 50 years.

Some people and organisations are always ready to paint a gloomy picture of Bangladesh. They make our country as the worst example of any bad consequence or situation. As a result the country has earned a very bad image in the international arena. This bad image directly hampers our economic progress.

They invariably utter the phrase, ‘the poorest country in the world.’ On the list of the countries of the world sorted by their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has been prepared by the IMF, Bangladesh stands 58th with GDP to the tune of USD 64,854 million among 180 countries. On the same sort of list prepared by the World Bank, Bangladesh stands at 56th among 183 countries. Again, on the three lists of the countries sorted by their GDP on the basis of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which have been prepared by IMF, World Bank and CIA, Bangladesh ranks at 33, 49, and 31 respectively among 179, 145 and 227 countries; how come Bangladesh is the poorest country in the world?

Due to the bad image of the country, we receive minimal foreign direct and indirect investments. For the same cause we receive virtually no tourist, though these days tourism is the number one global export item, and our country can be the haven of ecotourism. (Tourism earns foreign exchange for a country, so it is considered as an export.)

Some of us may join the chorus that say Bangladesh is drowning due to global warming with the hope of getting some aid for the country from the rich countries by evoking sympathy in them. What we need is not such dole money, but investment and tourism to make big strides forward in our economic progress. Seeking aid or dole money does not go with the sense of self-dignity.

At this moment our serious problem is not the rising of the sea level, but the explosion of population. Due to population explosion people of our country are compelled to live near the coast, on the newly formed shoals, and lose their lives helplessly when a cyclone or a tidal surge hits the coast.

Two centuries back European countries were suffering from population boom. Fortunately for them the excess people of those countries had the opportunity to migrate, in big number, to the ‘new lands’ like America, Australia, and Latin America. Nowadays the scope of migration in big number has ceased. So we have no other way, but to control the population explosion.

The other day a fish vendor told me, his grand fathers were two brothers, his father and uncles were four, and now his brothers and cousins are 28 in number. What a scaring picture of population explosion!

Some people term our annual flood as dreadful, but it is not indeed. The flood makes our soil fertile for better harvest, raises the land up gradually by millimeters each year. Otherwise a boon the flood becomes dreadful because the total population of the country is disproportionate to the total area of the land. By population we are the 8th largest nation in the world, by land area, 93rd.

If we can stop the population explosion, we will be able to live keeping safe distance from the coast. When a cyclone hits our costal districts we die in hundreds, our houses get destroyed, because they are made of bamboo and reed. Economic progress will make us able to build our houses high and with brick. Then the storm won’t be able to blow us like grass and twigs. We live in a delta, the largest delta in the world, a dynamic delta growing bigger and higher; we must know how to live in safety and with dignity.

There’s the glaring example of the Netherlands in front of us. About half of the land area in the Netherlands lies at or below sea level. The Dutch built dikes around swampy or flooded land and then pumped the water out. Several major rivers of Europe flow through the Netherlands into the sea. The country has few natural resources, and its lands are poor for agriculture. But the Dutch have struggled to make their country one of the wealthiest in the world.

This article is quoted from The Daily Star, Bangladesh. The original article was published on 2008.01.11 The writer Faruque Hasan is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

This article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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