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Climate Change : Development

Challenge for Bangladesh

Author: Atiqur Rahman, BBA (Major in Marketing), Patuakhali Science and Technology University &
Journalist, Daily Prothom Alo, Cell-+88-01711922584, E-mail:

CLIMATE change is a pressing development challenge for Bangladesh in view of the
country's vulnerability to its impacts. The observed and projected impacts of climatic
change and variability include a rise in sea level, higher temperatures, greater
monsoonal rains and reduced dry season precipitation and runoff, a rise in the
frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones and storm surges, and extreme weather
events. These changes have already caused severe losses in terms of life and property
damage, and seriously constrain Bangladesh's development prospects.

As the poor live and depend disproportionately on marginal lands, including coastal
belts, they are the most vulnerable and the prime victims of the detrimental effects of
climate change. In association with other socio-economic and environmental factors,
climate change and variability may amplify existing environmental stress,
contributing to lack of security to meet basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, water, and
health) and conflict over natural resources.

Key words: climate change, food security, loosing biodiversity, global warming, unexpected
migration, ecological balance, gross domestic product (GDP), livelihood.

A brief view of the Fact

Climate change causes extensive damage to infrastructure, affecting the economy's
roductivity by eroding its productive capacity. It also reduces the security of
livelihood assets for the poor and their access to such assets. Addressing climate
change concerns has thus become urgent and a priority issue for continuing the
country's development activities and sustaining gains in poverty reduction.
Major climate-induced disasters and their impacts: floods; Bangladesh has been
inundated by major floods with increasing frequency (Table 1) over the past 55
years. Before the country can fully recover from one flood episode, it is exposed to
another equally or more devastating flood. Global warming, by increasing runoff,
enhances the risk of flooding. A recent study reported that a 2° Celsius (C) warming
will result in a 10% rise in precipitation that would increase runoff in the Ganges,
Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers by 19%, 13%, and 11%, respectively.

Cyclones and Storm Surges. The country has been subject to tropical cyclones and
storm surges at regular intervals over the past century (Table 2). During 1900-2001,
the rate of tropical cyclones hitting the Bangladesh coast was 10.6 per decade. Since
1950, the rate of tropical cyclones and storm surges has risen significantly along with
their frequency and intensity.

In the past 125 years, more than 42 major cyclones hit the coast of the Bay of
Bengal; 14 occurred over the past 25 years. Most recently, in November 2007, the
category-4 super cyclone SIDR7 with peak winds at 250 kilometers/hour, hit
Bangladesh and caused more than 4,000 deaths. A report calculated the effects of a
repeat of the 1991 cyclone with a 2°C rise in temperature (with a 10% rise in wind
speed) and a 0.3 meter sea level rise. The report estimated that this could result in a
1.5 meter higher storm surge that would inundate 20% more land than the storm
surge from the 1991 cyclone. In recent years, general cyclonic activity in the Bay of
Bengal has become more intense and frequent, causing rougher seas.
Causes and effects of Climate Change

Drought: With rising temperatures, the country is experiencing a higher occurrence of

drought. Drought is a critical issue for the Barind Tract of the country, which
generally has lower rainfall. Very severe droughts hit the country in 1951, 1961,
1975, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1994, and 1995. 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
Between 1960 and 1991, droughts occurred during 19 years, covering as much as
47% of the country's area and 53% of the current population. Higher temperatures
may subject larger areas to drought because of climate change. Drought has severely
affected the climate-sensitive agriculture sector, affecting food production, water
resources, and human health. Major investments over the last two decades in the
Barind Tract were made to assist adaptation against drought and increase agricultural
productivity. However, most of these efforts will be undermined by increasing
drought in the north-western part of the country.

Geophysical Causes of Vulnerability: The harmful impacts of climate change are

exacerbated by the country's vulnerable geophysical location, low deltaic floodplain,
hydrological influence of erratic monsoon rainfall, and changes in regional water-
flow patterns. Bangladesh is one of the largest deltas in the world, formed by the
dense network of three of the largest rivers in the world-the Ganges, Brahmaputra,
and Meghna. The topography of Bangladesh is mostly low floodplain with almost
80% of the total land area barely 9 meters above mean sea level. This floodplain is
again criss-crossed by a large number of river networks, making it susceptible to
river and rainwater flooding, and in low-lying coastal areas, to tidal flooding during
storms. Of the 30 agroecological zones in Bangladesh, 13 are vulnerable to severe
flood, drought, cyclone, or extreme weather events.

Possible Future Episodes of Climate Change: Bangladesh is likely to experience a

1.0-1.04°C rise in temperature by 2030-2050. By 2100, the average rise of
temperature could be 2.4°C. Any further rise in temperature will bring the deadliest
consequences for the economy, environment, and human and social systems. Due to
climate change, average sea levels are predicted to rise by about 30 centimeters by
2050, and could make an additional 14% of the country extremely vulnerable to
floods, further squeezing settlements and resource use patterns with serious
implications for livelihoods and the physical environment. Climate change will
inundate vast areas of coastal Bangladesh-a 45 centimeter sea level rise along the
coast may inundate 10%-15% of the land by 2050 and may dislocate more than 35
million people from the coastal districts. With rising sea surface temperatures, the
intensity and frequency of cyclones and storm surges are likely to increase.

Higher salinity intrusion in coastal areas and riverbank erosion across the country
will severely affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor and marginal people
in the country. The Melting of the Himalayan glaciers will cause floods by
overflowing the inland rivers, and cause shortages of water for drinking and

The country may experience a 5%-6% rise in rainfall by 2030, which may create
more frequent large and prolonged flooding. Episodes of drought in the north-
western region affecting agriculture, food production, water resources, and human
health will become more frequent. Moderately drought-affected areas will be turned
into severely drought-prone areas within the next 20-30 years.

Economic Effects of Climate Change: Climate change will affect different sectors
of the economy to varying degrees. The transmission channels through which climate
change could affect economic activity and human development are shown in Table 5
and the effects on the major economic sectors are discussed in the following

Linkage between climate change and development in Bangladesh: Agricultural

Production and Food Security. The higher temperatures and changing rainfall
patterns, along with higher flooding and rising salinity in the coastal belt and
droughts in the northwest, are likely to reduce crop production. The International
Panel for Climate Change estimates that by 2050, rice production in Bangladesh
could decline by 8.0% and wheat by 32% against a base year of 1990. The
production of wheat, and high-yielding varieties of aus and boro might no longer be
economically suitable under climate change.

In southeastern Bangladesh alone, an estimated 14,000 tons of grain production

could be lost annually to sea level rise by 2030 and 252,000 tons by 2075.15 Because
of the effects of climate change, use of inputs like fertilisers, pesticide, and irrigation
may increase substantially, resulting in higher production costs. Climate change may
lead to change of phonology, e.g., advance or delay of flowering, fruiting, and early
arrival of insect pests, which ultimately affects production and yields. The reduced
crop production will adversely affect food security and human well-being.
Water Security: Climate change that results in floods, water logging, and higher
salinity will pose major threats to water security. Problems relating to availability of
fresh water for drinking and sanitation will become acute. Higher atmospheric water
vapour, rising evaporation, and changes in soil moisture and runoff will ultimately
reduce fresh water availability in arid and semi-arid regions. More intense rains and
more frequent flash floods during the monsoon season will result in a higher
proportion of runoff and a reduction in the proportion of water for groundwater

Ecosystem and Biodiversity: Higher salinity in the coastal belts could alter the
entire ecosystem of the Sundarbans and affect the rich biodiversity of the forest. A
25-centimeter rise in sea level is predicted to result in a 40% mangrove loss, and a
45-centimeter rise, combined with other forms of anthropogenic stress on the
Sundarbans, could lead to the destruction of 75% of the Sundarbans mangroves.

Higher rainfall during the monsoon will cause increased runoff in the forest floor
instead of infiltration into the soil resulting in enhanced soil erosion. Prolonged
floods would severely affect growth of many timber species, causing high incidence
of mortality for the Artocarpus species.

Enhanced evapotranspiration in winter will cause greater moisture stress, especially

in the Barind and Madhupur tract areas, affecting the Sal forest ecosystem. As a
consequence of these episodes, growth of the freshwater loving species (e.g.,
Heritiera fomes) will be severely affected and may be replaced by more saline-
tolerant species (e.g., Ceriops decandra). The ecosystem may then be dominated by
nonwoody shrubs and bushes with declining forest productivity and ecosystem

Degradation of forest quality might cause a gradual depletion of rich diversity of the
forest flora and fauna of the Sundarbans ecosystem. If the Sundarbans are lost, the
habitat for several valuable species including Bengal tiger, Barking deer, and Sundri
tree (Heritiera fomes) will be seriously threatened and may be endangered.

Human Health: Climate change is likely to worsen human health because of

reduced food and water security, and increased water-borne disease caused by poorer
water quality. Recent studies by the International Center for Diarrheal Disease
Research Bangladesh demonstrate that diarrheal diseases are on the rise, which the
center attributes partly to greater flooding and drainage congestion.

Climate change will increase the burden of various vectorborne air and water-related
infectious diseases. High summer temperatures could increase deaths due to heat
stress. Global warming could also produce more rapid replication of malaria and
dengue. Diseases like avian flu, nipah virus infections, and unknown encephalitic
diseases may become common. Heat stress and cold wave-related health problems
could be on the rise and adverse impacts on human reproductive systems may be

Fisheries and Livestock: Climate change could lead to loss of fishing grounds and
coastal inland fisheries, and changes in species composition. There will also be major
loss of freshwater culture fisheries and adverse impacts on coastal shrimp culture.
Climate change will disrupt river (estuary)-canal-floodplain fish production systems
and cause changes in migratory routes for some species.

Because of stormy weather, cyclones, and tidal surge, fishing time will shrink
causing loss of livelihood of fisherfolk and disrupting fish trading. Like human
beings, livestock and poultry may suffer due to natural disasters, higher
temperatures, and floods. In changing climate scenarios, fodder production may
decrease and disease and mortality rates may rise, which may threaten the viability
of the livestock subsector.

Migration: Climate-induced natural disasters, riverbank erosion, and livelihood

losses could accelerate rural to urban migration. Historically, disaster-induced rural-
urban migration in search of improved livelihoods has created pressures on urban
areas. Sea level rise of 0.5 meters over the last 100 years has already eroded 65% of
the land mass of Bhola, Kutubdia, and Sandwip islands.

Many people are also being displaced from other coastal islands, chars, and along the
coastline as their settlements are destroyed by frequent and intense storm surges and
tidal bores. "Climate refugees" comprise a major concern for the country. They are
growing in number and must seek refuge because of loss of their homes, land, and
settlements to riverbank erosion, coastal erosion, permanent inundation, and sea level

Livelihoods of the Poor: Climate change is likely to directly impact poor people's
livelihoods, including employment, access to water and natural resources, homes,
and infrastructure. Poor people often live in places and have livelihoods that are
susceptible to natural calamities or adverse economic factors, and this limits their
ability to cope with and recover from shocks and hazards. Climate change threatens
food security of the poor by affecting the agriculture sector severely, where they are
mostly engaged. Women appear to be the most vulnerable in this regard.

Options for Tackling Climate Change and Variability: Tackling Climate Change
and Variability. The key challenges in tackling climate change in Bangladesh are to
ensure food and water security, protect infrastructure, and manage the disaster risk.
Addressing health and energy insecurity, forced migration, and overall
environmental degradation are additional challenges. These are further aggravated by
high population pressures, lack of funds for appropriate adaptation, inadequate
policy frameworks, and limited human and financial resources.

Climate change may threaten the significant achievements Bangladesh has made in
the last 20 years in raising incomes and reducing poverty. It also poses major threats
to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to
eliminating poverty and hunger; ensuring food and health security, and human rights;
and promoting environmental sustainability. Efforts to reduce poverty will only be
sustainable over the longer term if they incorporate climate change adaptation and
mitigation in development planning.

Adaptation in Agriculture: As the incidence of floods and drought is likely to rise,

efforts should be made to develop climate-resilient crop varieties and cultivars.
Agronomic manipulations such as shifting planting dates and using short duration
crop cultivars could be the other options.

In the dry months of March and April, when salinity problems resulting from
seawater intrusion are more acute and lands are commonly left fallow as crop
production is restricted by the presence of salts, cash crops such as tomatoes and
chili can be grown with proper management of soil, water, and salinity. Use of raised
beds and irrigation through drip irrigation systems may also be needed. In the coastal
tidal floodplains during the kharif season when normally nothing can be grown due
to high standing water, maize could be grown under the wet-bed no tillage method.
In the tidal-flooded ecosystem, the so-called "sorjan" system of cropping, growing
vegetables in raised beds could be an adaptation option.

Early warning systems should be strengthened to inform farmers of adverse weather

conditions. For waterlogged areas, improving drainage, cultivating adaptive crops,
developing technology for floatingbed agriculture and rice plus fish culture are some
options. Integrated wetland farming, improved fish farming, mangrove and inland
plantations, and agroeco system-based crop production technologies are additional

Adaptation for Water Security: The need to modernise existing irrigation schemes
and water demand management systems will be higher than under normal
circumstances, aimed at optimising physical and economic efficiency in the use of
water resources. Public investment policies need to be adopted for improving access
to available water resources, encouraging integrated water management, and
promoting better practices for the sensible use of water in agriculture. Policies need
to be adopted for protecting groundwater resources and water catchment areas.
Activities such as rainwater harvesting, and creation of water reservoirs and surface
water storage need to be encouraged. Coastal communities need to be provided with
drinking water for combating enhanced salinity due to sea level rise. Integrated water
management systems could be introduced. Water policy needs to be reformed with
introduction of pricing to cover costs, and support more efficient irrigation.
Improved water management and major rehabilitation of the coastal embankment are
priority needs.

Adaptation for Ecosystem and Biodiversity: Afforestation and reforestation programs

that are in line with climate, community, and biodiversity standards need to be
adopted and encouraged. Sustainable and alternative livelihoods for ecosystem-,
forest-, or biodiversity dependent human communities need to be developed. Long-
term monitoring of ecosystems with climate change-integrated conservation
strategies is essential to adapt to climate change.

Management techniques for forest tree species suitable for vulnerable and climate
sensitive agroecological zones and different forest types need to be employed and
tolerant varieties of forest crops and tree improvement practices need to be
identified. In addition, creation and restoration of buffer zones and habitat mosaics
around conservation areas, and development of methodologies for the intensive
management of native species are the other options for adaptation. Coastal greenbelt
projects may need to be revived to diffuse the forces of cyclones and storm surges.

Adaptation in Health: Improved housing and living conditions can reduce exposure
to disease under adverse climatic conditions. Better irrigation water management is
needed to reduce potential mosquito breeding sites. Community-based integrated
vector management using the farmer field school experience gained in the agriculture
sector in integrated pest management could help control the spread of disease.

Public health systems need to be improved to cope with threats posed by climate
change. Education, training, and awareness campaigns on public health need to be
stepped up, and climate-sensitive disease surveillance programs initiated.

Adaptation in Fisheries and Livestock: Salt-tolerant fish species need to be

developed for aquaculture in water-logged areas and ponds. Mechanized fishing
technologies need to be introduced. Other possible adaptation options include
protection against pond floating, mechanization of boats and fishing technology,
development of pond aquaculture, provision of alternative livelihood for vulnerable
fisherfolk, and introduction of climate-resilient fodder crops and climate-resilient
poultry and livestock breeds.