I was only half paying attention last night when the BBC news brought us another story about destitution and poverty in the third world, this time it was about the problems Bangladesh is suffering from the flooding in the latest monsoons:
Up to 20 million people in low-lying Bangladesh are at risk from rising sea levels in the coming decades, according to new research.
Scientists predict that salty water could reach far inland, making it hard to cultivate staple foods like rice.
The research comes as the government appeals for $5bn (£3bn) over five years to combat climate change.
In May, Cyclone Aila left thousands homeless, killed many and caused widespread flooding and damage.
My mind wandered and I half remembered Blue Peter or some other program doing an appeal donkeys years ago. Something about them cutting down trees and the soil being eroded so the water ran off the mountains faster or something. Obviusly its getting worse, I thought, but why raise it now this isn’t news it happens every year, doesn’t it?
Then I started to pay full attention as the magic words – Climate Change – were used:
Abdul Khaleque is managing Oxfam’s emergency response in Satkhira region, where more than 20,000 people lost their homes on Gabura Island.
He said: “This place is very near to the sea and we know climate change is causing sea levels to rise.
As it happens, man made or not, Bangladesh is going to be one of the places that suffers if the predictions of a warming world are correct (if it is AGW will only bring the date forward a few years). It therefore highlights the problems the world does face and why we need to keep getting richer so we can pay for places like Bangladesh to deal with their problems and this should be the story, but more on that in a while.
Its worth considering what has happened in Bangladesh that has made the problem so accute. I had to do some digging to get my memory back in order but I was right, a large part of the problem is man made, but it isn’t AGW. Firstly there is the problem of deforestation which is explained in slide 2 and of this presentation.
But that isn’t the full story of Bangaldesh’s problems. This report, Problems and Prospects of the Hilly Watersheds in Bangladesh: Priorities for their Conservation, explains in more detail what has been going on:
With a population of 123 million and a land area of 14.757 million ha, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (834 persons/km2) with a per capita land availability of a mere 0.12 ha
However, over the last two centuries land use has undergone a tremendous change with clear felling of forest trees to make way for the establishment of mostly monoculture plantations of valuable timber species such as teak and fruit trees, and other economically important cash crops. Due to land scarcity and almost yearly flood havoc in other parts of the country, people have been migrating to the CHTs. According to the latest census conducted in 2001, the population of the area was 1.06, or 0.14% of the national population of 129.25 million. Over a period of 50 years, population density in the area rose from 22 people/km2 in 1951 to 78 people/km2 in 2001, an increase of 355%. This population explosion necessitated an expansion of agricultural activities in the hilly landscape at the cost of preservation of the watersheds. Degradation of watersheds
then accelerated due to the combined effects of deforestation and unsystematic slash and burn practices, contributing to severe soil erosion and deterioration of water quality.
So with or without climate change Bangladesh is in serious trouble and needs help. So back to the original story:
According to the researchers, data from 11 Bangladeshi monitoring stations shows an average sea-level rise of 5mm per year over the last 30 years, with climate models forecasting further rises.
I’m not sure if that is land sinking, as it is on the eastern seaboard of the UK, for example, or the sea rising. Either way it not good for Bangladesh and something does need to be done:
In an interview with BBC News, Bangladesh’s Minister of Disaster Management, Dr Muhammed Abdur Razzaque, said he wanted sea defences similar to those in Holland.
“We have to have new designs for embankments and we have to raise their height,” he said.
“We are expecting $5bn over the next five years in support from the international community.
OK thats a start. Not cheap but if it helps to protect 20m people from climate change then I suppose it needs to be done. But here’s the rub. If we follow the recommendations of some of the eco warriers we are going to impoverish ourselves to try to halt climate change. In fact they want to impede growth in poor areas by restricting their CO2 output as well. So, if we are to help Bangladesh lets all keep getting rich shall we? (read this piece from Tim Worstall for more details on wealth generation and the economic models of the IPPC)
But there is an alternative I suppose:
Among those living in tents on a narrow strip of high ground is Asma Khatun, a 25-year-old widow, who is now eager to leave.
“I think it is not possible to live in this country any longer. We have to move to other countries.
“We can’t live here just by drinking this water. It is not possible to live here.”
Yes, mass migration is the alternative and given the problems that has been generating over the past couple of years its hardly going to be popular!
So, lets help these countries to deal with the problems, but more importantly, stop people trying to impoverish everyone by over reacting about the impact of CO2 and unnecessarily restricting world growth.
BTW for each doubling of CO2 even the UN says we will only get a 1.2deg temp rise and nobody is forecasting more than a doubling without any measures to restrict output.