National Catholic Reporter
By FARID AHMED
Inter Press Service
Bangladesh sees in the United Nations climate change conference, which met the first 11 days of December on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, an opportunity to remind the world of its special vulnerability.
Bangladesh is still trying to cope with the aftereffects of Cyclone Sidr, which tore through this country Nov. 15, killing more than 4,000 people and rendering several million more homeless and starving.
Before leaving for the conference -- which was held under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change -- environment and forests minister Chowdhury Sajjadul Karim said he and his 24-member team of experts would explain the claim that Bangladesh has already suffered greatly from climate change.
Bangladesh, Karim said, 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 setting up an international research center 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 center is set up in the country, it will be easy to assess the damage from natural disasters and seek global funds for climate change adaptation,” said Ainun Nishat, country director for the World Conservation Union.
At the Bali conference, the delegation described the people’s sufferings and troubles wrought by natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts due to the changed behavior of nature caused by emission of greenhouse gases in other parts of the world.
Nishat said that floods, droughts and cyclones were not new for Bangladesh, but the severity of natural disasters has multiplied because of the changed behavior 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 justice if a more vulnerable country receives a fund equal to that of a less vulnerable,” he said.
He said the least developed countries -- which include Bangladesh -- were at a greater risk from climate change and must compel the industrially developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as proposed under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
Under a new pact being formulated, industrialized countries will be asked to accept massive reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2012, when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.
The U.N. Development Program in its latest human development report has warned that climate change would hit the world’s 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 6 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 U.N. human development report.
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.
Ahead of the Bali meeting, the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted 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 16 inches in the Bay of Bengal would submerge 11 percent of the Bangladesh’s land area in the coastal zone, displacing 7 to 10 million people -- who would then be forced into the interior 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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