PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIN M SHIBLY
In some places, the impact of climate change is more apparent than in others. Bangladesh is one of the largest deltas in the world which makes it highly susceptible to natural disasters. The country’s physical, social, as well as, economic conditions make it even more prone to these circumstances which occur on a scale that involves unprecedented human tragedy.
Nearly one-quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level; two-thirds of the country is less than 15 feet above sea level. Most Bangladeshis live along coastal areas where alluvial delta soils provide some of the best farmland in the country.
One of the many plights of climate change is that sea level can rise. It can happen due to the oceans warming up due to increasing global temperatures or because of melting ice which then adds water to the sea.
Bangladesh has been suffering from both. With the temperature of the Bay of Bengal significantly increasing, scientists believe that Bangladesh has suffered from some of the fastest recorded sea level rises in the world. At the same time, melting of glaciers in the Himalayas has swollen the rivers that flow into Bangladesh from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
According to the government’s 2009 Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, “in an ‘average’ year, approximately one-quarter of the country is inundated.” Every four to five years, “there is a severe flooding that may cover over 60% of the country.” Rapid erosion of coastal areas has already inundated dozens of islands in the Bay. For example, Sandwip Island, near Chittagong, has lost 90% of its original 23-square-miles in the last two decades.
Climate change in Bangladesh has started what may become the largest mass migration in human history. Riverbank erosion, in recent years, has annually displaced from 50,000 to 200,000 people. It is also reported that a three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20% of the entire country and displace more than 30 million people.
With all this in mind, ICE Business Times time travels through the Dhalghata Union in the South East of the country. Just to give you an idea regarding its location, Dhalghata lies on the South Eastern coast of Bangladesh, but towards the North of Cox’s Bazar. As mentioned before, the rapid erosion in these coastal areas leads to large masses of people being displaced. We travel to the villages of Saraitala and Bonjamiragona to observe how climate change can alter lives and landscapes over the six year period from 2011 to 2017.
13 SEPT. 2011
We first see Saraitala in 2011 during the month of Ramadan. On the night before Eid al-Fitr, the full spring high tide (known locally as bhorakatal) destroyed the government made embankment sweeping away most of the village. The neighboring village, Bonjamiragona and its accompanying wards are also caught in the flood. Most of the villagers are then forced to migrate to higher lands in the union to escape the rising waters.
Ultimately the sea level rose above that of the village ground level during the high tide, forcing inhabitants to leave behind the lives they had built there.
4 MAY 2015
Around 4 years onwards, as we travel towards Saraitala again, we first visit its neighboring ward, Bonjamiragona, to observe the toll time has taken on the small village.
22 MAY 2017
Post-2015, the locals in Dhalghata raised around Tk 18 lac to build their own embankments against the rising waters. This was used primarily to set up salt farms in Bonjamiragona. The construction of this new dike, along with the salt farms, has meant that slowly families have started to migrate back to their former homes in the area.
In this area, salt farming occurs from October to March due to the lack of rain and the lower pressure from the tides. The families can earn more from the salt farms, so the population grows during this time frame. However, from March to September, they once again have to migrate elsewhere as their income from the salt farms dwindles. These are the people climate refugees who don’t have enough money to relocate permanently. They come back when they can earn money from salt cultivation then leave again when the rains increase and the water levels rise.
The photographer has been conducting this documentary style of work all across Bangladesh over the last 14 years. He visits various locations in the country and documents the areas over a few years so that the changes they go through can be observed. His work in the landscape genre, as seen in this photo story, depicts not only the alterations in the landscape, but also the changes in the lives of its inhabitants.
These are the conditions these people are forced into. Uprooted from their homes, they move back and forth between these semi-barren areas, coping with the frustrating reality that they cannot settle anywhere permanently. As the sea levels rise slowly with the passage of time, whatever scope of recovering these lands is also slowly being drowned in the process. Bearing this in mind, the government has to take a stance and allocate resources or establish programs for these displaced families and climate refugees so they can start new lives in safer territories. Another way to help them would be to build upgraded embankments like the ones on the Marine Drive in Cox’s Bazar. Considering the exasperating lives they currently lead, these steps can hopefully reassure inhabitants in these coastal regions that the lives they are trying to build won’t be washed away by these rising tides for much longer.
This unfolding calamity also demands a response from the international community. Wealthier nations generate most of the greenhouse gases that are harming countries like Bangladesh, creating climate refugees. If these countries are unwilling to absorb these refugees, there is a moral imperative for them to help. They must join in with the Bangladesh government and aid them in the construction of roads, water supply systems, housing and other infrastructure so these climate refugees can remain and thrive in their own country.
i. Global Economic
ii. Scientific American
iv. NY Times