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BANGLADESH: Food Security in Great Peril from Climate Change

Athar Parvaiz* - IPS/TerraViva

COPENHAGEN, Dec 17 2009 (IPS) - Unless the world comes to its aid, Bangladesh says the vulnerability of its agriculture sector to climate change could spell severe consequences for its millions of people, who stand to lose their main source of livelihood.

“As a poverty-stricken and densely populated country, we cannot cope with these challenges unless we have a proper financial and technological support from the developed world,” said Sabir Hassan Chowdhary, one of the delegates from Bangladesh to the Copenhagen climate talks, in an interview with IPS.

Describing Bangladesh as the most vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of the global environmental phenomenon, delegates from the country are making fervent appeals for international help to prevent further deterioration of its food and livelihood security in the face of frequent droughts, erratic rainfall patterns, cyclones and floods.

The low-lying riverine South Asian country, one of the poorest in the world, lies between the foothills of the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

“Over the last few days in Copenhagen itself, a number of research organisations have declared us the most vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of climate change. Therefore we want the world to stand behind us to meet the challenges we are facing,” said Bangladesh’s environment and forest minister Hassan Mamud.

Some 130 heads of state are gathered at the United Nations Climate Conference in this capital. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed optimism that a new climate change deal will be reached at today’s conclusion of the conference. Funding from the developed countries to assist the developing nations in dealing with climate change has been one of the most contentious issues during the historic talks.

“We desperately need the world community to come forward and help us in adapting to the changing climate. And we would like to maintain that the adaptation funds, committed by the developed world, should be in the form of grants, not loans,” he said.

Mamud said 70 percent of such funds should be specifically allocated to the Least Developed Countries, including Bangladesh. “The whole population in Bangladesh is vulnerable to climate change impacts.”

Data obtained by researchers working on climate change in the Himalayas show that “at least 20 glacial lakes in Nepal, some of them even 40 meters deep, can burst at any time. If these glacial lakes burst, the entire Bangladesh will get flooded,” Mahmud told IPS. “That is why we say that we are more vulnerable than countries like Maldives.”

Bangladesh, “despite being not responsible for the global warming,” he said, has begun exploring measures aimed at mitigation like using compressed natural gas as fuel in public and private transport and harnessing solar energy.

Citing scientific studies, Ziaul Hoque Mukta, another member of the Bangladesh delegation, said in an interview with IPS that sea level will rise by 45 centimetres by 2050 while 10 to 15 percent of the land area of Bangladesh will be lost under water, displacing a large number of the more than 30 million people in the coastal nation.

“Poor landless people, who largely depend upon the coastal natural resources, will be at high risk,” he said, adding that coastal regions comprise 32 percent of the total area of Bangladesh and are home to about 35.1 million people. “So Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise.”

Based on data from the Bangladesh government, 20 percent of the country’s national income is generated by the agricultural sector, which employs approximately 60 percent of the total workforce of the country. It is estimated, Mukta said, that 65 percent of the 250-square kilometre area in the coastal island of Kutubdia, 227 sq km in Bhola and 180 sq km in Swandip in Bangladesh “have already gone under water because of the sea- level rise.”

Ainun Nishat, national advisor and senior advisor on climate change to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Bangladesh country office, told IPS that despite efforts to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh, 29 percent of the population still lives in abject poverty, with a daily income of less than one U.S. dollar.

Bangladesh is self-sufficient in terms of agricultural production, “but climate change is going to make the food security and livelihood survival very difficult,” Nishat said. Bangladesh has to create a “robust industrial structure” if it wants to adapt to the impacts of climate change in future, he added.

“The erratic rainfalls, droughts and cyclones are already creating problems in the agriculture sector, which can worsen if required steps are not taken,” he said. In June Dhaka received 440 millimetres of rain in a day, or more than double the average daily rainfall of 150 to 180 mm.

“Similarly, frequency or intensity of peak cyclones has also increased during the past few years and four of the last 16 big cyclones since 1960 were witnessed in the last two years only,” Nishat said. These environmental phenomena are putting the food security and security of livelihood at a huge risk, he added.

(*This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online daily published for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.)

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