The rising seas will greatly change the way of life for people living near the oceans, not only in Bangladesh, but the population living along coastal areas in China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.
By Lin Smith
May 26, 2014—After catching the last part of “Easy Like Water” on PBS a couple of weeks ago, I felt the need to expand on the rising oceans, its current effects on coastal people and how Bangladesh is using its resources to combat the rising waters along its coastal areas. According to National Geographic, Bangladesh ranks first as the nation most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the future. This is a tiny country, about 60,000 sq. miles, slightly larger than the state of Iowa in the U.S. Some scientists are watching Bangladesh to see how this country handles its rising waters.
According to Wikipedia, scientists project that, “By 2020, from 500-750 million people will be affected by stress caused by climate change,” plus there will be an increase in floods and droughts along low lying coastal areas. Countries like Bangladesh will be extremely affected as the seas rise. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than 1 million people could be displaced by the rising waters by 2050. The panel also estimates that the sea will rise at least 40 cm (almost 1 and 1/2 ft) more than today’s level by the end of this century. This rise will greatly change the way of life for people living near the oceans, not only in Bangladesh, but the population living along coastal areas in China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. More than 4.1 million people reside along coastal lowlands in these countries. With rising waters, it’s predicted that 17% of the land could be flooded, plus the coastal land will be vulnerable to increased storm surges, erosion, and an increase in salinity in rivers, bays and aquifers.
Why is Bangladesh so vulnerable to climate change? There are 57 tributaries that flow into the sea around Bangladesh, plus rapidly melting glaciers from the Himalayas, making it extremely vulnerable to flooding. Because these rivers are polluted by the time they reach this tiny country, drinking water is pumped up from below the surface, causing the ground beneath the cities to sink, and increasing the chance for floods to occur. Along with the sinking land, there are poorly constructed seawalls that attempt to hold back the floods and rising waters.
Boat Schools of Bangladesh
The flood waters from the rising rivers and seas have impacted education along coastal areas. A non-profit organization, founded by Mohammed Rezwan, is turning boats into schools along the coast of Bangladesh. Starting this service with $500 in 1998, the schools consist of 20 traditional wooden boats that have been modified. They are 50 ft x 10 ft with a cabin to accommodate 30 students and a teacher. The students board the schools at coastal pick up areas, attending classes for 2 or 3 hours, 6 days a week. Along with the floating schools there are 10 floating libraries, 7 floating adult education centers and 5 floating health clinics. The floating libraries offer 2 computers, 1500 books and solar powered lamps which allow people to read after sunset. Adult education often consists of learning to grow flood resistant crops, creating floating gardens, and raising ducks in floating coops. Shidhilai, the non-profit organization, employs 61 teachers and 48 boat drivers, providing year round services. This organization plans to add 100 more boats in the next 5 years, reaching 100,000 more people.
Underestimating the Rising Tides of Bangladesh
Dr. John Pethick, former professor of Coastal Science at Newcastle University in England, has spent much time studying the coastal areas around Bangladesh. He states that the predictions of rising waters are far underestimated. He predicts that the tides of this country will rise 10 times faster than global averages, rising 13 ft by 2100. With almost 1/4 of Bangladesh only 7 ft above sea level, this puts the country at high risk for coastal destruction, creating a problem which is far too large for this tiny country to handle alone.
These coastal countries have asked for support and monetary help from the larger, fossil fuel consuming, developed countries, stating that the underdeveloped countries, like Bangladesh, have contributed very little to the effects of climate change. Leaders of underdeveloped countries have asked the richer nations to compensate for polluting the atmosphere and causing the problems that they face today. “It’s a matter of global justice,” says Tig Rahman, Executive Director of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies.
As Alex Mifflin said in the Huffpost, “Bangladesh has become the poster child for climate change.”