Accreting lands from the sea
A present formidable problem for Bangladesh apparently is land shortage. But there is also good news. Although there has been a long standing projection about a part of Bangladesh’s coastal areas sinking into the sea in the near future from the greenhouse syndrome, regularly received satellite imageries and other tangible supporting evidences suggest that Bangladesh is rather about to receive the gift of a huge land mass from its adjoining sea from gradual deposition of silt brought down by rivers.
The size of this land mass, eventually, could be as big as the present size of Bangladesh or even bigger. But it will depend considerably on what the Bangladeshis themselves do– like the people of Holland did –for lands to rise from the sea and for the same to be joined to the mainland.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is no doubt the most authoritative forum as regards worldwide climate change and its consequences. But some years ago, IPCC had to eat its own words and confess that some of its projections were flawed such as the imminent disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers that could most dramatically raise sea levels in the South Asian region. Scientific data also indicate that nothing can be absolutely said, yet, about the extent of sea level rise or the height of its occurrences in different parts of the world.
Thus, it may eventually become quite possible for Bangladesh to gain in elevation or new lands in its coastal areas in the likelihood of deposition of silt in its coastal areas being faster or greater than the anticipated sea level rise in this region.
Unfortunately, nothing has been noted so far in the country’s annual development plans (ADPs) to the effect that successive governments have been paying attention to this issue. Hardly allocations have been made over the years to build dams and other structures to put a pace to the process of accretion of coastal lands. This attitude, undoubtedly, is a serious neglect of the vital national interest.
Already, substantial territories have surfaced in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Some of these places have completely surfaced and have human habitations on them while others remain submerged during tides to emerge with the ebbing of the tide. The latter types of accreted lands are likely to gain in elevation to be permanently joined to the mainland. Indeed, a part of present day Bangladesh including the districts of Faridpur, Barisal, Noakhali, Patuakhali, etc., were formed in this manner over time.
The country is likely to get a generous response from the international community in matters of fund availability and technical supports if it can show that it is really keen to accrete more lands and has put the endeavour under a systematic policy framework.
Holland is one country which has the most experience in getting lands out of the sea. Bangladesh may not have to embark on projects on the same scale as were carried out in Holland because of its relatively better elevation. It can use its huge reservoir of cheap manpower to build simpler projects to get the same kind of results as were achieved in Holland. But for this purpose it needs to engage in a time-bound and result oriented framework of assistance and consultation with that country.
Even if Bangladesh ultimately requires sophisticated engineering works along its coasts like in Holland, it should engage in this task with no loss of time. Government in Bangladesh should go all out to get a major part of the international fund now under mobilization to help out the countries most likely to be affected by climate change. These funds ought not to be spent largely on attractive environmental projects such as planting trees along the coasts, dredging of rivers, etc., but on what would be the most effective long term defences against sea level rise like the sea-walls in Holland.
Even if external aid is not forthcoming, the government can proceed with dams and other structures where these will yield almost immediate benefits in the form of lands rising from the sea on a sustainable basis. The taking up of such projects and their successful execution are quite possible for Bangladesh by mobilising its own resources and applying its own expertise.
One may say that the cyclone hazards can be serious in the coastal areas. But these hazards are not as these used to be in the past. Few people have died from these cyclones in recent years and much less resources were destroyed from cyclones . The creation of a network of cyclone shelters and other forms of preparedness for disasters have led to such favourable developments. With the establishment of a greater number of cyclone shelters and extending the system of preparedness, there would be no reason for a far bigger number of people than at present not to be living and working safely in viable occupations in the coastal areas including the already accreted lands and the about to be accreted lands.