Natural disaster creates international migration crisis in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters in the world. The country is constantly battling with climate change disasters including floods, riverbank erosion, cyclone and droughts. Flood poses most devastating impacts on human life in the country which is related to climate change and environmental hazards. Country's flat topography, low-lying and climatic features combined with its population density and socioeconomic environment make it highly susceptible to many natural hazards. As a result internal migration of people has become an issue.
One remarkable impact of natural disaster is the bank shifting of rivers of Bangladesh. Flood is a major challenge to the people in 51 out of 64 districts in the country, representing significant threat to the lives and livelihoods of vast number of people. It is seen that the life standard, average life expectancy, per capita land, access to education, health service, social security of the people of the coastal areas are much less than those of mainland.
The country is a drainage basin with 300 major rivers and channels most of which originate outside the country. Geographical vulnerability lies in the fact that it is an exceedingly flat, low-lying, alluvial plain covered by over 230 rivers and rivulets with approximately 580 kilometers of exposed coastline along the Bay of Bengal. As a result of its geography, Bangladesh frequently suffers from devastating floods.
The country has a long history of destructive flood from the 19th century: six major floods were recorded in 1842, 1858, 1871, 1875, 1885 and 1892. Eighteen major floods occurred in the 20th century. Those of 1987, 1988 and 1951 were of catastrophic consequence.
The news of riverbank erosion is not heard much at other times of the year, but in the monsoon season it severely affects a large population every year. Bangladesh is projected to lose around 2,270 hectares of land this year due to riverbank erosion, a study report has said. Riverbank erosion every year destroys households of some 50,000 people, who comprise around 30 to 40 per cent of the homeless in the country.
An excessive monsoon downpour in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna drainage system is thought to be the primary cause of the floods and riverbank erosion in Bangladesh due to climate change. It is not confirmed, however, if the heavy precipitation is actually an effect of other processes such as the greenhouse effect or destruction of forests in the upstream region.
As a result, the social and economic vulnerability is increasing with the natural calamities, especially the floods and riverbank erosion. Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoon climate characterized by wide seasonal variations in rainfall, high temperatures and humidity. There are three major seasons in Bangladesh: a hot, humid summer from March to June; a rainy monsoon season from June to October; and a cool, dry winter from October to March. In general, maximum summer temperatures range between 30 degree Celsius and 40 degree Celsius according to the weather data.
Just 1 degree centigrade increase of global temperature and very little rise in sea level will result in inundation of a large area of Bangladesh. As a result, displacement of 40 million people by the end of this century is forecasted. Two per cent GDP of Bangladesh is regularly lost due to natural calamities and environmental degradation. Moreover, climate change induced salinity and other disasters, harming rice and other crop production significantly in the country.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says by 2050, around 50 million people will migrate because of climate change. Due to flood, riverbank erosion and cyclone many people are already forced to migrate from their places of origin to other places in Bangladesh. Major rivers like Jamuna, Ganges and Padma has already eaten up around 1,590 square kilometers of floodplains rendering 1.6 million people homeless since 1973.
Cyclones and floods have led to almost all the nearly 520,000 natural disaster related deaths recorded over the past 40 years. Around 4.7 million people were displaced between 2008 till 2014 due to natural disasters in Bangladesh, according to 2015 estimation by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDCM). One of the most important impacts of flood hazards will be the forced migration of people throughout Bangladesh--as a result of loss of home, land and livelihood. A World Bank report revealed that Bangladesh saw around 234,000 deaths, including 80,000 in urban areas, due to environmental pollution and related health risks in 2015.
These factors are pushing poor people to abandon their homes and communities and to settle lives elsewhere. Most of the homeless people believe that everything will be solved if they go to Dhaka. According to report some 2,000 people settle in Dhaka every day. At least 400,000 people move to Dhaka every year, according to the World Bank. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 70% of Dhaka's slum-dwellers moved there fleeing some sort of environmental shock.
Around 12 million of the children are most affected lives around the large river systems which flow through Bangladesh those regularly burst their banks. The most recent major flood of the Brahmaputra River in 2017 inundated at least 480 community health clinics and damaged some 50,000 tube-wells, essential for meeting communities' safe water needs, according to UNICEF. UNICEF points out that since the early 1990s, investment and action--both in disaster preparedness and risk reduction programmes--have made vulnerable communities in Bangladesh more resilient to the dangers of climatic change shock.
Ex UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended at a meeting of the two-day International Conference on 'Dhaka Meeting of the Global Commission on Adaptation' to counter the adverse impact of climate change and Bangladesh Best Teacher in Climate Adaptation At the same time. He said that Bangladesh is "miraculous" in dealing with climate change.
To protect countries and human livelihoods from flood and riverbank erosion, it is advisable to move human settlements out of riverbank and other low-lying areas. At the same time, authorities should take initiatives to face the environmental pollutions.
Tarequl Islam Munna is Correspondent, American International News Service & Conservator, Wildlife and Environment