Bangladesh struggles to turn the tide on climate change as sea levels rise
Bangladesh is already one of the most climate vulnerable nations in the world, and global warming will bring more floods, stronger cyclones. At the dry fish yards, close to the airport at the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar, women are busy sorting fish to dry in the sun. They say the process, which begins in October, can continue through to February or March if the weather is good.
But Aman Ullah Shawdagor, a dry fish businessman who employs 70 people, says high tides and seasonal changes have hit his business hard. Last year there were four cyclones, more than ever before. In 2015, there was only one.
“My business is not doing so well because of the changing weather conditions,” says Shawdagor. “This is a dry season business. But for the last couple of years, the rain has become more frequent. It rains not only in the rainy season but also in the winter. There have also been more signals [storm warnings] with the rise in high tides. When the high tide comes, it frequently covers the whole of the land here. It is very bad for the dry fish.”
Nurul Hashem, a schoolteacher from Kutubdia Para, a nearby shanty town where many of the dry fish workers live, has also noted the trend. “We believe the water level is getting higher here,” he says. “Last year, my home was under water three or four times.”
Scientists predict that, by 2050, as many as 25 million people in Bangladesh will be affected by the rising sea level. Hashem and Shawdagor believe that they are already seeing the effects of a changing climate, however.
Kutubdia Along the coast lies Kutubdia, an island in the Bay of Bengal where lush green rice fields give way to acres and acres of flat fields. Consisting of small rectangles of varying hues of brown, they are salt fields. The encroachment of saline water from rising tides has made rice farming impossible.
Abdus Shukur, 50, a former agricultural farmer, says he learned to farm salt 10 years ago, when sea water flooded the land he rents. It took him six months to learn the craft and he finds it back-breaking work.
“I was an agricultural farmer before,” says Shukur. “But the embankment broke down and saline water came on to the land. We had no choice but to adapt.”
Salt farming, he says, brings in more money that crops. But it is harder.
“Farming crops, I worked two or four hours a day. I’m now earning double what I earned before. But in the salt fields I have to work from morning till evening, the whole day.”
The small island, which has halved in size over the past 20 years due to erosion and sea level rise, is surrounded by a three-metre high concrete embankment, built by the Bangladeshi government to protect it from disappearing into the sea. But it is broken in several places and the sea water enters the land.
“The coastal belt is facing many problems of salinity,” says Mokbul Ahmed, a project co-ordinator for coast, an organisation that helps local communities affected by the changing climate. “Day by day, salt water enters the land. In Kutubdia, every year, the government builds the embankment and every year, it is destroyed.”