Climate-Fueled Rains Ravage At Least a Quarter of Bangladesh

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer 

Torrential rains have flooded “at least a quarter” of Bangladesh, Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik reported in the New York Times last week. According to data from the National Disaster Response Coordination Center, 4.7 million people have been affected by this deluge and over 50,000 people have been displaced. At least 54 people have died, according to the NYT.

Bangladesh was already fighting an environment made increasingly more volatile due to anthropogenic climate change. Earlier this summer, Cyclone Amphan hit the southwest of the country, affecting a huge amount of coastal-dwellers. And, rising sea-levels have already led some to deem Bangladesh “the country disappearing under rising tides.” Unfortunately, these rains may last well into August, continuing to impact Bangladeshi denizens.

Why This Matters: This is, as the NYT noted, yet another example of one of “the most striking inequities of the modern era,” as those who are “least responsible for polluting Earth’s atmosphere are among those most hurt by its consequences.” We need those countries responsible for polluting the atmosphere (namely, the United States) to take concerted and collective action on these issues. And, this collective action must not economically hinder countries in the Global South like Bangladesh who, on average, contribute much less to global warming than more affluent countries.

A Hindered Response: Though Bangladeshi officials have tried to prepare the nation for monsoon season, recent natural disasters (like Cyclone Amphan), as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have constrained national response efforts. As NASA’s Earth Observatory explained, many flood protection structures, such as embankments and dykes, were already damaged from monsoon floods in recent years and the typical recovery cycle is usually three to five years.

Impact of COVID-19: As the NYT noted, the most recent flood’s impact on Bangladesh was exacerbated by the effects of the global pandemic. As the NYT reported, due to the lockdown, work both at home and abroad had dried up. By June, when the flooding started, many people already were running low on food supplies. The flooding, which killed remaining livestock and destroyed productive plots of land, magnified these issues. Vegetables, according to the NYT are now “unaffordable” for many, “let alone fish or meat,” which one Bangladeshi sharecropper deemed “unimaginable” in the current state of affairs.

A Growing Climate Threat: As the impacts of climate change, particularly on countries in the Global South, amplifies, the flooding of Bangladesh will only increase. One study in the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering, quoted by the NYT, showed that even if global temperatures increase just by 2 degrees Celsius, flooding in the Bangladeshi section of the Brahmaputra River will go up by 24%.

Climate change is deeply impacting the lives of many Bangladeshi people, and will only continue to do so in the future. In 2018, the World Bank predicted that by 2050, the country may have over 13 million climate refugees. While the Bangladeshi government is undertaking hundreds of projects to tackle this, this must be treated as a global problem with a concerted global effort, particularly from those countries in the Global North most contributing to climate change. As Farah Kabir, Bangladesh country director for ActionAid International, said to the NYT, “People are losing whatever little they have…when is the global community going to take responsibility?”

As NatGeo explained, Bangladesh has always survived its share of tropical storms, flooding, and other natural disasters. But today, climate change is accelerating old forces of destruction, creating new patterns of displacement, and fueling an explosion of rapid, chaotic urbanization as Bangladeshis struggle to survive.

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