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CLIMATE CHANGE: Bangladesh Takes Its Trauma to Bali

Farid Ahmed

DHAKA, Dec 3 2007 (IPS) - Bangladesh sees in the United Nations climate change conference, currently underway on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, an opportunity to remind the world of its special vulnerability.

Victims of Cyclone Sidr waiting for help on the banks of a river in Barguna district  Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Victims of Cyclone Sidr waiting for help on the banks of a river in Barguna district Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Bangladesh is still trying to cope with the aftereffects of Cyclone Sidr which tore through this deltaic country on Nov.15, killing more than 4,000 people and rendering several millions more homeless and starving.

Before leaving on the weekedn for the 11-day conference – which opened Monday under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – environment and forests minister Chowdhury Sajjadul Karim said he and his 24-member team of experts will explain the claim that Bangladesh has already suffered greatly from climate change.

Bangladesh, Karim pointed out, has been seeing an increase in the frequency and severity of the natural disasters that strike this country of 150 million people with regularity.

This, the minister contended, made it the ideal location, for the setting up of an international research centre for the study of climate change and its impact on nature and life.

There is backing from academia for Karim’s demand.

"If an international climate change research centre is set up in the country, it will be easy to assess the damage from natural disasters and seek global fund for climate change adaptation," Prof. Ainun Nishat, country director for the World Conservation Union (IUCN), told IPS.

The delegation would describe the people&#39s sufferings and troubles wrought by natural disasters like cyclones, floods and droughts due to the changed behaviour of nature by emission of greenhouse gases (GhGs) in other parts of the world.

A series of seminars, held in Dhaka in the days ahead of the Bali meet, resounded with concern over the effects of climate change on this country, notorious for its proneness to geo-climatic events.

The ‘New Age’ daily in an editorial of a special issue on climate change published on Saturday said: "As we turn the corner to the Bali summit, this New Age issue on climate change is a charge sheet of crimes for the world leaders to consider."

According to the editorial it was only fair to expect that the United States and Europe would bear the major share of the blame for climate change and compensate those affected by it.

Exhorting Karim’s team, the equally influential ‘Daily Star’ said in an editorial on Sunday: "Bangladesh must make its points in a forceful manner. It goes without saying that Bangladesh – where disasters are seen to be caused by changes in climatic behaviour – has been at the receiving end without in any way having contributed to such changes."

Prof. Nishat of the IUCN explained to IPS that floods, droughts and cyclones were not new for Bangladesh, but the severity of natural disasters had multiplied because of the changed behaviour of nature.

Bangladesh would, he said, demand that the adaptation fund promised by the liable countries be adequate and distributed according to the real vulnerability of recipient countries. "It cannot be a justice if a more vulnerable country receives a fund equal to that of a less vulnerable," he said.

He said the least developed countries (LDCs) – of which Bangladesh is a member – were at a greater risk from climate change and must compel the industrially developed countries to reduce GhG emissions as proposed under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Under a new pact being formulated, industrialised countries will be asked to accept massive reductions in their GhG emissions by the end of 2012, when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

The U.N. Development Programme in its latest human development report (HDR) has warned that climate change would hit the world&#39s poorest countries by breaking down agricultural systems, worsening water scarcity, increasing risks of diseases and triggering mass displacement due to recurring floods and storms.

The report said more than 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese and six million Egyptians stand to be affected by global warming-related flooding. "The near-term vulnerabilities are not concentrated in lower Manhattan and London, but in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh and drought-prone parts of sub-Saharan Africa," said Kevin Watkins, lead author of the HDR.

Bangladesh has taken a double blow this year, first from the devastating floods in July and then from the worst cyclone since 1991 in mid-November.

The Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted ahead of the Bali meet that accelerated melting of the Himalayan ice caps and incremental rise in sea levels would likely increase the severity of flooding in the short-term during the rainy season and greatly magnify the impact of tidal storm surges during the cyclone season.

It is feared that a sea-level rise of just 40 cm in the Bay of Bengal would submerge 11 percent of the country&#39s land area in the coastal zone, displacing 7 to 10 million people – who would then be forced into the interiors of the already densely populated country.

Experts said the frequency, extent, depth and duration of floods could increase because of more monsoon rains triggered by climate change. That would cause a significant decrease in crops and food security, making it difficult for the country to feed its vast population, they said.

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