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Flooding in 2019 in a remote part of Bangladesh. (Mohammad Rakibul Hasan/UN Women)

Bangladesh, the largest delta in the world, is a highly vulnerable country owing to climate change. The South Asian country is known for its forests, natural resources, and many waterways. As many as 170 million people reside in an area of 147,570 square kilometres, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is disheartening that this country experiences natural disasters every year.

According to the Asian Development Bank, in 2019, 20.5% of the population lived below the poverty line, whereas the extreme poverty rate is 10.5%. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh has been the seventh most affected country in the world by extreme weather events during the past two decades. Bangladesh’s children have the highest climate risk, according to UNICEF, which assesses it as “extremely high.”

Flooding brought on by tropical cyclones in 2007 and 2009 resulted in a 44% decrease in average income and a 40% rise in debt in the households impacted. 95% of farmers reported an income reduction of roughly 23% in the mid-aughts. 72% of farmers have taken up extra jobs, including day labour, and pulling rickshaws owing to the decline in agricultural income.

Other longer-term effects associated with climate change include forced job shifts, involuntary migration, and increasing economic vulnerability. By 2050, up to 16 million people could be displaced, possibly leading to the greatest forced migration in human history.

It is well recognized that climate change’s adverse consequences overwhelmingly affect the poor. For instance, a significant number of slums in Bangladesh are concentrated in low-lying metropolitan regions that are vulnerable to flooding. Without even taking into account the consequences of climate change, this makes the inhabitants of the slums more vulnerable.

Bangladesh has seen multiple natural disasters over the past several decades, but due to climate change, the severity of these disasters has escalated. Nearly every year, the nation is affected by minor to medium-sized flooding, cyclones, flash floods, and landslides. For instance, the country had 219 natural catastrophes between 1980 and 2008.

Between 1976 and 2019, Bangladesh underwent an increase in temperature of 0.5°C on average. The fact remains that rising temperature and its related drought have adversely affected the north-western region of this country since the area is well known for its agriculture.

Additionally, sea level rise and salinity intrusion have affected coastal and char areas. According to Bangladesh’s Soil Resources Development Institute, the total area of land impacted by salinity was 83.3 million hectares in 1973, climbing to 102 million hectares in 2000, and expanding to 105.6 million hectares in 2009 and it is still rising. Salinity has risen in the country by about 26% during the past 35 years, reaching locations that are not coastal.

The productivity of fisheries will be impacted by changes in river salinity and the accessibility of freshwater. The wild habitats of aquatic species and gigantic prawns would be negatively impacted. Further, the increased salinity may cause a change in the production of crops, especially paddy.

According to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Ohio State University, Chittagong and Khulna districts are more likely to experience the greatest within-district extra added flow of migrants, estimated between 15,000 and 30,000 migrants annually.

Those who are losing their homes, fisheries, and cultivable land are dealing with a significant challenge to their daily livelihoods. The impacts of climate change will not appear only in the future; many people are already experiencing its consequences. About 80% of the land in the country floods during the monsoon season because most of it is low and flat. Due to the massive river water increase during this season, the frequency of riverbank erosion also increases.

Due to devastating floods and riverbank erosion, many people are losing their homes, farms, livelihood, livestock, and land. They are compelled to move to cities to pursue employment and a better life but frequently end up living in slums. Bangladesh was affected particularly hard during the 2020 monsoon season when extreme rainfall killed hundreds of people and damaged 1.3 million households. Rural and coastal residents have migrated to cities in response to severe weather patterns impacting agricultural prospects.

Many people are being displaced due to floods, river erosion, salinity, cyclones, and other natural disasters, and finding alternative housing for these individuals in a populated country like Bangladesh is challenging. That is why it is often seen that these people have relocated to cities, established a home in slum areas, and been involved in low-wage work. They are becoming involved in informal work and even illegal activities. Those individuals have to survive on a meager income. The adverse effects of climate change force them to remain poor in the long run.

Md. (Obaidullah) Siam holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Barishal, Bangladesh. Currently, he is working as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka. He regularly writes on the topics of Public Policy, Politics and Governance, Sustainable Development, and Climate Change.

Showkat Raihan completed his BSS in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Barishal. Showkat is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in Public Administration at the University of Barishal.