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Bangladesh’s battle with climate change

As a vast, flat delta, Bangladesh is perhaps the country most clearly associated with the threat of rising seas – without protective barriers along the coast, even a moderate increase in sea level could cause flooding deep inland. Estimates suggest that even a one-metre rise could swallow 15 to 20 per cent of the land area, where some 20 million people reside.

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But while sea level rise may pose the greatest challenge for Bangladesh, the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is likely to be felt at ‘ground zero for climate change’ in numerous different ways – among them dwindling water supplies, saltwater damage to crops, loss of biodiversity and fiercer storms tearing through the region.

Over on Nature Reports Climate Change, a feature by Mason Inman looks at the changes that are already being witnessed on the ground in Bangladesh and how the region is preparing for the changes yet to come. Mason travelled to Bangladesh in November to report this feature with support from a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism.

In areas such as Bhola, where people have lost land to the ocean, many are looking to the Netherlands for inspiration – and calling for strengthening of existing embankments as well the construction of new, taller and stronger sea walls.

He writes that some parts of the coast, though, can’t be protected by dikes. Stretching across the border into India is the world’s largest single tract of mangroves, known as the Sundarbans. Saltwater intrusion is already a visible problem in this global hotspot of biodiversity, pushing out native species and traditional crops. Here, people are looking at planting salt-tolerant varieties of rice and catching rain to use as salt-free drinking water.

Among these diverse efforts to adapt to climate change, the common denominator is lack of adequate resourcing. How the region will fare in adapting to climate change will largely depend on the success of international climate negotiations. As this feature highlights, the paltry tens of millions that thus far constitutes the UN Adaptation Fund covers only a fraction of the billions of dollars per year needed to help nations such as Bangladesh cope with challenges ahead.

Read the feature in full here. For some further musings from Bangladesh and on science in general, check out Mason’s blog.

Olive Heffernan

Image credit: Mason Inman


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