News / 21 March 2019

Jahin Shams Sakkhar: "20 million Bangladeshi might have to move because of sea level rise"

We asked three of our partner organisations to tell us how climate change is already affecting the daily lives of the people they work with, what they are doing to turn the tide and if they think the Climate Court Case against Shell can be important in the context of climate change. Jahin Shams Sakkhar of UTTARAN (Bangladesh) talks about floods, salinity and (in)justice.

"Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world. Among the coastal region of Bangladesh, the south west coastal communities are already vulnerable to various natural and manmade disasters such as cyclones and water logging. These disasters are all likely to increase due to the impact of climate change putting the life and livelihood of the communities at further risk.

Over the last decade the rainfall patterns of the area have become erratic, which means that in one year we have more rainfall and in the other it's very little, or in a short span of five to ten days we receive the whole month of rainfall. This causes flooding and drought in the area, making agriculture and aquaculture highly vulnerable. In monsoon season (June to September) many men in particular are migrating to other areas, particularly to Dhaka and northern Bangladesh, in search of work. This leaves women with almost no capital to deal with the monsoon flooding along with their infants and elderly, thus creating a gender issue.

Sea level rise is perhaps the biggest threat to the coastal people. Several reports claim that sea level rise will permanently inundate 13-17% of the land mass of the country and will force around 20 million people from the affected area to migrate away. On the one hand, the rivers of the south west are losing their water carrying capacity and on the other hand the sea level keeps on rising. Salinity has increased in the coastal region which increases the already existing fresh water crisis of the area, making it harder in some of the coastal areas to find potable water.

In terms of social vulnerability, poor people are now being forced to buy water from local water vendors at high price or they drink saline water, which increases health problems. In some of the coastal areas, women in particular spend 20-30% of their lifetime in search of fresh drinking water. Locals are suffering from an increased heat wave in the area. During the summer the temperature can sometimes go over 45 degrees. This destroys many agricultural products and also puts people's health in danger from heat related stresses.

The coastal people who can afford it are trying to adapt to climate change in various ways, for example by changing the seasonal plantation time of rice, by growing saline tolerant vegetable, rice and fruit species, or by growing multiple crops. There are many similar efforts that are ongoing in the area, some of which are planned by the government or NGOs, some of which are autonomous, reactive and indigenous. But the extreme poor communities who are the most vulnerable are finding it difficult to adapt to climate change. They are left with one option: every day hundreds of them are migrating either temporarily or permanently.

Uttaran thinks that this case against Shell is quite important, because of justice. It's not just Shell, it's a matter of those companies and countries, who historically have been and still are the biggest emitters of Carbon, taking responsibility for their actions. As mentioned before it is probably a very hard truth to digest that extreme and poor people here are fighting a lost battle every day because someone else has emitted or is still emitting irresponsible greenhouse gasses and is taking no measure to reduce it. It's a matter of justice. It's a matter of life: not just one but millions of lives here in Bangladesh and many more globally."

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