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Climate of Fear in Sinking Country

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  • Mike Neuman
    February 2, 2007 Climate of Fear in Sinking Country Global warming peril to Bangladesh Flooding may hit 40 million by 2100 by Jeremy Page When Iman Ali Gain
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2007
      February 2, 2007
      Climate of Fear in Sinking Country
      Global warming peril to Bangladesh
      Flooding may hit 40 million by 2100
      by Jeremy Page

      When Iman Ali Gain first heard about climate change a couple of years
      ago, he thought that it was a joke.

      How could the habits of people in the West affect him, a 65-year-old
      shrimp farmer in southwestern Bangladesh?

      He still has no concept of the science behind global warming, which
      will be outlined in a United Nations report today. But he does not
      need the 2,500 experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
      Change (IPCC) to prove that his world is under threat. Climate change
      here is a day-to-day reality that scientists say could make 17
      million Bangladeshis homeless by 2030.

      Over three decades Mr Gain has seen the waters around his mud house
      in the coastal region of Munshiganj, where silt-laden rivers meet the
      sea, rise 3m (10ft). He has been battered by increasingly violent
      floods, tornadoes and cyclones, and tasted the salt seeping
      relentlessly into his drinking water.

      Three months ago a tidal river burst through one of the embankments
      that had protected the region's rice growers, shrimp farmers and
      fishermen since 1968. "The water came up to here," he said, putting
      his hand to his chest, as dozens of labourers piled sticky, grey
      earth into the breached embankment.

      "People were shocked and very afraid. We worry about what happens in
      the future. How will we live here?" Nature has never made it easy to
      live in Bangladesh, a vast delta at the confluence of the Ganges,
      Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, mostly lying less than 10m above sea

      Every year these waterways burst their banks as rainwater and ice
      melt sluice down from the Himalayas towards the Bay of Bengal.

      Cyclones and tornadoes pummel the coast annually, bringing further
      misery to a country slightly larger than England, yet crammed with
      145 million people. Local sea levels appear to be rising, and summer
      temperatures climbing, causing droughts in the north west.

      The result is a "perfect storm" of environmental factors that could
      make Bangladesh the first significant country to be destroyed by
      climate change. "Bangladesh is in such a difficult position because
      all these factors — geographical, demographic, political and
      climatic — have conspired together," said Atiq Rahman, head of the
      Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies and an IPCC member. "It is a
      test case for the rest of the world."

      He predicts that if the sea rises by a metre — as some scientists say
      it will by 2100 — a quarter of Bangladesh will be submerged, forcing
      30 to 40 million people from their homes.

      As floods have pushed sea- water far inland, contaminating paddy
      fields and water supplies, thousands of farmers, like Mr Gain, have
      turned their paddy fields into shrimp farms. They earn more cash, but
      are less well-off because they no longer have their own food
      supplies. That leads to malnutrition and disease.

      Thousands of "climate refugees" are estimated to have left the region
      to find work in the cities or neighbouring India. Those who stay are
      slowly learning to adapt, with the help of activists such as Mohon
      Mondal. "When I first told people about climate change, they thought
      I was crazy," the 31-year-old geographer said. "Now they know it's
      true because they see so much evidence."

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