Article by Crystal Shatabdi Pholia, a volunteer for Climate Justice for All.
Bangladesh is a small country that is tucked beside India to the east. Despite its size, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. With well over 166.3 million individuals crammed into 148,460 km2, the small country is overpopulated. Some of the major cities are overcrowded, which has a negative impact on both people and the environment.
Naturally, the country is blessed with a complex river system and fertile land. There is a diverse ecosystem including the endangered Bengal Tigers of the Sundarbans. But all this is very badly affected by climate change. Despite its blessings, Bangladesh lacks natural resources and heavily relies on imports. The agricultural industries of the country fail to produce enough goods to sustain its citizens. Much of southern Bangladeshi soil is contaminated by the salinity of seawater that flows into the land. This further hinders the production of agricultural goods.
Bangladesh is surrounded by India, Myanmar, and the Bay of Bengal of the Indian Ocean. Every year the country is rocked by earthquakes, flooded by rain and sea, suffers cyclones each monsoon, and the occasional droughts.
The country’s capital Dhaka is one of the world’s most crowded cities. The megacity is five times smaller than London but with approximately the same population of about 8.9 million individuals. The city is not only full of people but also millions of vehicles. And the rapid migration to the cities for job opportunities means more people. Due to a lack of natural resources, there is an increased use of imported fossil fuels such as oils. This, along with the ever-growing population, has dramatically increased the amount of air, land, and water pollution.
Bangladesh is both an emitter and one that suffers the consequences. It ranks 7th out of 180 countries for being at high risk of climate change, putting it in the world’s top 3% of high-risk countries despite emitting only around 0.41% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With air heavily contaminated with lead, landfills emitting 4 tons of methane per hour, and Buriganga river in Dhaka turning black with chemicals, the country’s environment is struggling to keep up.
Over the decade, the government, along with many (I)NGOs, has organized projects and plans to try and preserve the country’s environment. There are many attempts at reducing pollution and the effects of climate change. The country also receives plenty of international funds to help it combat its issues. Yet the overall positive impacts are quite small.
The first issue most NGOs, including the Church of Bangladesh, help to combat is disaster management. Citizens, mostly in the south, are trained to deal with the numerous floods and cyclones. Many shelters have been built all over the country but are not capable of containing all who are impacted. Volunteers are trained to guide and lead their communities during natural disasters to safety. Communities are being trained in risk management. Many attempts are being made to educate the general population on the causes and effects of climate change, especially those who are most vulnerable. People are encouraged to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle and to try and improve their contributions to the overall issues. These awareness programs and climate advocacies of the NGOs and INGOs have led the government of Bangladesh to end up creating an official Department of Disaster Management and fund relief programs for the country.
Aside from risk management, many projects and workshops are conducted to assist and educate the population on improving agriculture. Though the country is fertile, half of the land is saline and polluted. Many farming communities are being encouraged to take the initiative and expand their methods. Some of them are practicing integrated agriculture with saline-tolerant plants. Fish farms and poultry farms are built alongside the crop beds. This allows both the crops and the fish/poultry to interact and benefit from each other. Many communities have adapted hanging gardens, which are space-efficient as well as allowing fresh saline-free soil to be utilized. Bamboo and water-hyacinth structures are used to make floating gardens. This type of gardening allows the plants to float above flood waters instead of being washed away.
The biggest issue that contributes to the country’s climate problems is the lack of education. Half the population in Bangladesh is under the poverty line. This leads to much of the population being poorly educated. The economic shortcomings of many families lead to fewer family members getting through basic high school education, this especially impacts women. A lack of education leads to fewer people knowing and understanding climate issues and, in turn, even fewer people bothering to care for the environment. In recent years, the government of Bangladesh implemented a new policy in which public schools must provide education from kindergarten till 10th grade free of charge. This new policy has helped millions across the country and will hopefully assist in preventing many issues. Although this new policy allows for more people to be educated on climate change, most are not made completely aware of its urgency nor their direct involvement in the issue. And since this is a highly traditional country, children will only improve as much as the adults around them.
The final issue in the country is a lack of accountability. The government often fails to deliver for the benefit of the people. The country is struggling with violence, discrimination, and inequality, and is being held together by humanitarian groups. The post-colonial nation is still a developing nation. But in order to catch up with the rest of the world, it is my view that the Bangladeshi government is rather tunnel-visioned into improving and modernizing Dhaka city, rather than making sure the people are well cared for. Furthermore, most of the humanitarian actions that the government has taken were influenced by INGOs or the UN. Despite the lack of assistance from the government, there is slow but steady change occurring due to people speaking out about national issues.
The youth in Bangladesh are rising and taking a stance for climate justice. Due to growing cities, the internet, and better-quality education, many are now acknowledging the impacts of climate change and understanding that drastic measures are to be taken. Bangladesh as a whole has moved on from being a country that helplessly suffers to one that is prepared and aware of natural disasters and their repercussions. A new generation with shifting views and a better understanding of environmental issues shines a ray of hope.
With time and patience, Bangladesh will achieve Climate Justice.