May 07, 2007

Putting Bangladesh on the frontline of climate change

"About 150 million people are crammed into this overcrowded country, making for a density of 1,000 people for every square kilometer. The country is only 40 percent the size of Germany." - reports Matthias Gebauer, a German consultant. He writes a series on the dangers of the effects of the Global warming in Bangladesh in Der Spiegel Online.

However if you read his reports (link below) minutely you will see that it tells about rampant poverty in the Char areas, new found floodplain sediment islands in river deltas. These are located in an active river basin and are subject to erosion and accretion. They are the shelter of some of the country's poorest people, who cannot afford to live elsewhere and try to fight for their lives here.
"The island has no electricity, and Shahidul has only heard of the existence of telephones."
This is a sharp contrast to the countries record cellphone growth. The infrastructure like roads and electricity are bestowed upon after a long time when these lands have sufficient inhabitants and settles down.

And the truth if anyone can get:
"Subject to nature's whims, the farmers have just been able to feed their families on the hard-earned returns of their work. It is enough for a daily bowl of dal -- a yellowish porridge of lentils -- onions and a little rice. A piece of meat or fish is added once a week. In the evenings, the exhausted farmer gets one or two packages of paan, a mixture of nutmeg and lime rolled up in a green leaf. This local drug is relaxing and has turned Shahidul's teeth blood red. Besides, he says, you forget your problems; as if on cue, his friends grin and show their own sets of red teeth."
Well Paan is rather a digestive than a drug and you don't always need a drug to find happiness amongst extremest poverty.

Yes poverty is written all over the articles. Netherlands can build proper flood protections having a lot of its surface areas under see level. Why Bangladesh cannot provide a lot of protection to its oversized population is because of poverty.

According to Matthias:
"The average Bangladeshi produces just 178 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year -- a mere drop in the bucket compared to the 21 tons per capita released annually by Americans."
Still they will be the first ones to face the adverse effects of the Global warming mainly because they don't have enough means to protect them.

Climate change is of course a vital issue. But poverty reduction is a far more greater issue in Bangladesh. And I think the world should also put that in perspective.

There are many international organizations engaged in Char development projects (1, 2, 3). I don't know about the successes of the projects. But I met one consultant working on one such project who commented "If these NGOs/IOs could just distribute the millions of dollars funds directly to the poor people rather than spending on consultants, researches and ineffective strategies, there could be a significant reduction in poverty."

Related reading:

1) On the Front Lines of Climate Change.

2) The Salty Taste of Global Warming.

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