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Growing Number of Bangladeshis Flee Rising Waters
By Kieran Cooke
As another monsoon season begins, huge numbers of homeless Bangladeshis are once again bracing themselves against the onslaught of floods and the sight of large chunks of land being devoured by rising water levels.
Bangladesh, on the Bay of Bengal, is low-lying and crisscrossed by a web of rivers: two thirds of the country's land area is less than five meters (approximately 16 feet) above sea level. With 166 million people, it's one of the poorest and most densely populated countries on Earth—and one of the most threatened by climate change.
A recently released report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) says rises in sea levels caused by climate change could result in Bangladesh losing more than 10 percent of its land area by mid-century, resulting in the displacement of 15 million people.
The country is already experiencing some of the fastest-recorded sea level rises in the world, says the EJF, a UK-based organization that lobbies for environmental security to be viewed as a basic human right.
Increasingly erratic rainfall patterns—linked to changes in climate—are adding to the nation's problems. Sudden, violent downpours have resulted in rivers breaking their banks and land being washed away.
Rising sea levels mean land and drinking water is contaminated by salt. Farmers are forced to abandon their land and move—many to Dhaka, the capital, one of the world's so-called megacities, with a population of more than 15 million.
"Bangladesh has a long history of floods, but what used to be a one-in-20-year event is now happening one year in five," said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka. "It is what we would expect with climate change models."
Farmers further inland are also forced to move to the capital in search of work due to surging rivers eating away their lands. The city's slums are expanding, and Dhaka's population is increasing by more than 4 percent each year.
"We had a small farm—we used to produce peanuts and gourd, corn and sugar all year round," said one farmer quoted in the EJF report. "Now I collect scraps of work as a labourer."
EJF says climate change should not be seen only as an environmental issue; climate change is also contributing to a rapidly developing humanitarian crisis, not just in Bangladesh but in many other regions around the world.
"It is countries like Bangladesh, and people like those we met, whose contributions to climate change have been among the smallest, that are now facing the worst impacts," said Steve Trent, EJF's executive director.
"We must act now to prevent this becoming a full-scale humanitarian crisis."
In recent months more than 600,000 people—Rohingya refugees from violence in neighboring Myanmar—have set up shelters in southern Bangladesh. There are fears that this community could also be under threat during the monsoon period.
The EJF report highlights how women in Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to climate-related disasters. In 1991 a cyclone which swept across the Bay of Bengal caused the deaths of 140,000 people and forced 10 million to leave their homes.
EJF says 90 percent of the dead were women; their lower status means they are often not taught survival skills. Women also tend to stay with children and other family members when disaster strikes.
Those women who do migrate find it more difficult to adapt to life in a Dhaka slum or elsewhere. Some become victims of trafficking, ending up in brothels in India.
Foreign Migration Grows
EJF says that while most climate migration is internal, there are indications that growing numbers of Bangladeshis are seeking to move outside the country. It says that in early 2017 there was a particularly big surge in the number of Bangladeshi migrants arriving in Italy after completing the perilous journey by land and sea from their homeland.
EJF is calling for the creation of an international legally binding agreement for the protection of climate refugees. The EU should take the lead in this process, it says.
"There should be clarifications on the obligations of states to persons displaced by climate change, with new legal definitions," says EJF.
"Definitions of climate-induced migration are urgently needed to ensure a rights-based approach and give clarity to the legal status of 'climate refugees'; these must be developed without delay."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.