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Bangladesh grapples with millions of climate refugees

PM Hasina tells conference that the low-lying country faces an increased risk of natural disasters

Bangladesh grapples with millions of climate refugees

A boatman ferries people across the Rupsa River during the rainy season in Bangladesh’s Khulna district on July 17, 2015. Low-lying Bangladesh is grappling with millions of climate refugees, a conference was told. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Published: July 11, 2019 09:38 AM GMT

Updated: September 02, 2019 05:19 AM GMT

Bangladeshi cities are struggling to cope with an influx of millions of people from rural and coastal areas due to climate change-induced disasters, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told an international conference in capital Dhaka.

“Evidence suggests that Bangladesh already has six million climate migrants, a number that could more than double by 2050 due to changes in temperature, increased frequency and severity of floods, drought, heat waves, cyclones and storm surges, sea level rises and salinity intrusion,” state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency quoted Hasina as saying on July 10.

Hasina spoke to local and international delegates during the opening session of the two-day Dhaka Meeting of the Global Commission on Adaptation.

The premier urged the international community to enhance their awareness about climate change and extend their support to negate the impacts.

Low-lying Bangladesh is located on the floodplains of the world’s largest river delta system that empties into the Bay of Bengal, making the country vulnerable to natural disasters including cyclones, tidal surges, flooding and riverbank erosion.

Climate scientists predict that due to global warming and the consequent melting of polar icebergs, the sea level will rise by up to one meter.

Low-lying countries like Bangladesh face enormous risks from the sea level rise, they say. The country might lose its entire southern coastal region, resulting in displacement of about 20 million people.

Experts and aid workers believe the real figure of climate refugees is much higher.

“Our studies show the climate change-fueled migration rate is very high, and it should be much more than six million today,” Jalal Uddin Sikder, a researcher at the refugee and migratory movements research unit of Dhaka University, told ucanews.com.

Bangladesh has not received enough international assistance for climate change and mitigation efforts, but on the other hand there is corruption and mismanagement of climate change projects in Bangladesh, he alleged.

“There are efforts to tackle climate change impacts, but these are dismal, not up to the mark. Various organizations have received government and international funding for projects but didn’t work properly, so the poor and needy people were deprived and forced to become climate refugees in cities,” Sikder added.

Jibon D. Das, regional director of Caritas Khulna, which covers the southern coastal region, echoed those sentiments.

“It is true the government spends millions of dollars on climate change projects, but there is a serious of lack of checks and balances. The money is spent but no monitoring of whether it was useful, timely and proper. People who really need support to rebuild lives don’t really get it,” Das told ucanews.com.

Caritas has been assisting climate change-affected communities to fight back by offering alternative livelihood options including cash for work, small loans and alternative agriculture methods plus livestock rearing, he said.

“If people have an option and support to turn things around, they will stay in their areas and try to change their lives; otherwise they will migrate to urban areas,” Das said.

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