BY: ALIASHA R. ZAFAR
The consequences of increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are experienced daily by people living in regions particularly susceptible to climate change, especially in the developing world. Climate disasters are occurring unevenly around the globe, and the real polluters are not paying the price. The effects of global warming are unfairly hitting the poorest first and worst—those who contributed the least to the tragic phenomenon and are unable to stop it. Climate injustice is a major issue in the developing world, displacing millions in countries battling against poverty amongst a plethora of other social, political, and economic issues, incapable of adapting to the effects of climate change in time.
Amongst many is low-lying Bangladesh, home to 166 million, and more at risk from climate change than almost any other country. Estimations predict rising sea levels alone will domestically displace 18 million Bangladeshis within the next 40 years. Suffering from melting Himalayan glaciers in the north and the rising waters of the Bay of Bengal in the South, Bangladesh’s vulnerable location contributes heavily to the country’s humanitarian crisis. Different weather-related anomalies have tormented the country throughout history. However, the current frequency and intensity of these disasters has never been seen before. Ravaging cyclones and deadly floods have not only swallowed the homes of rural inhabitants, but have also contributed to severe salt-water intrusion, leaving fields that once supported agriculture completely unprofitable, creating serious food and water insecurity for this rural demographic.
There are estimations that out of Dhaka’s alarming population of 19.5 million, 30% are climate refugees—that is roughly 5.8 million people. Every day, 2,000 of these rural residents escape to the Bangladeshi capital in hopes of a better life. But what does the term “better life” mean for these migrants? Better yet, is life in Dhaka truly better for them?
Despite efforts by many rural inhabitants to rebuild their homes, building permanent shelters seems impossible due to the increased frequency of these disasters constantly destroying them. A better life would perhaps be one in which these migrants have stable shelters, to say the least; however, this is not the case.
It is important to note that 24.3% of the country’s population lives below the national poverty line of USD 1.90 per day. More importantly, out of those 38 million, 70% are rural inhabitants. Taking this into consideration is essential to understanding the tragic living situations these migrants face once they move to the city. The financial state of the majority, due to their disadvantaged economic situation, forces these displaced communities into congested Dhaka slums, wherein a sickening irony, exposure to fatal monsoon floods continues in addition to numerous health issues resulting from poor sanitation conditions.
The intensity of these floods is far greater than one may imagine; they kill hundreds and leave millions stranded. They can last from days to weeks and are so high in elevation that city children attempt to travel to school by wooden boats. Not to mention that with these floods comes the outbreak of water-borne and diarrheal diseases, including, but not limited to cholera, dengue, and malaria. Such diseases are extremely detrimental to the people’s livelihoods; they sink productivity levels and cause many to fall deeper into poverty, leaving them even more vulnerable to future disasters—which may unexpectedly await them the following day. It seems that these climate refugees are not safe anywhere, as they leave their drowned homes to come to cities ill-equipped and financially unable to withstand our changing climate.
Despite the efforts of Bangladesh to develop into a climate change adaptive country—investing more than $10 billion in climate change actions—the increasing pace of climate change makes it extremely difficult for the country to adjust in time. This ongoing tragedy of human displacement is significantly contributing to the acceleration in Dhaka’s overpopulation—threatening society and the country’s overall economic advancement and proving to be an obstacle to any efforts towards sustainable development.
It is a matter of humanity that international agreements on climate change prioritize the poorest, most vulnerable and least responsible first and foremost.
Aliasha R. Zafar is a recent graduate from Boston University – Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, with a B.A. in International Relations and a minor focused in Communication.
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