Coping with a vital national issue

Publish: 4:54 PM, May 11, 2022 | Update: 4:54:PM, May 11, 2022

A high profile seminar organized jointly by a British research organization and Bangladesh’s Ministry of the Environment was held in Dhaka couple of years ago. It was attended by foreign researchers and scientists. Prediction was made from it that some 11 per cent of Bangladesh could be lost to the sea by 2050 from earth warming and the consequent sea level rise.
But global climate change is still an uncertain phenomenon. Scientists themselves are divided on the issue. At any rate, there is a consensus scientific opinion worldwide that there is nothing very accurately predictable or ascertainable about climate change and nothing can be said with absolute certainty or surety.
Scientists are only making some hard guesses based on presently available statistics that may alter in the near future. For example, they are only making guesses about glacier meltdown and sea level rise. They can have no exact estimation of the extent of that rise because there is now no exact assessment of the rate of glacier meltdown or the melting of the polar caps. None can, therefore, predict accurately the future rate of the sea level rise from such ice melting. The same may be only some centimeters by the middle of the present century and in that case Bangladesh would not be at all affected by sea level rise.
Besides, the concern that was created about earth warming in the eighties led to significant steps taken by the most greenhouse gases emitting country in the nineties and beyond to try and reverse the process. Most of the major industrialized countries – the main emitting countries-are adhering to guidelines under the Kyoto protocol to reduce the level of emission of such gases down to their levels in the seventies. The USA did not sign the protocol initially but under intense international pressure it has rejoined the protocol . Besides, the US, on its own, is taking some measures to emit less greenhouse gases. Therefore, the outlook in the near future is less and less emission of greenhouse gases and the same would be beneficially impacting on the environment and making it unlikely that sea level could rise by several metres to inundate coastal regions including much of Bangladesh
Unfortunately, not much has been noted so far in the country’s annual development plans (ADPs) to the effect that the government is paying attention to this issue. Successive governments should have done all in their powers to help the land accretion process which holds out so much promise for this land hungry country. Not only doing everything locally to aid the process of land accretion and consolidation, the governments should have been proactive in seeking foreign assistance to realise the same objective.
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, much of present day Bangladesh including the districts of Faridpur, Barisal, Noakhali, Patuakhali, etc., were formed in this manner over time.
Lands have already emerged from the sea in the coastal areas and more lands from the sea will hopefully rise in the future. But the natural process is a long one. It can be hastened and the technology for it is not so prohibitive or complex either. For Bangladesh, it involves only quickening the process of accretion by establishing structures like cross dams to speed up the rate of deposition of silt in areas that have accreted or nearly accreted.
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 endeavor under a systematic policy framework. Holland is one country which has the most experience in getting lands out of the sea. Today, the Dutch have not only solved these problems through sophisticated engineering works, they have permanently reclaimed vast stretches of lands from the sea and are keeping them dry for various uses within secure barriers or sea walls.
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.
Besides, the government of Bangladesh ought to also appeal to the international community to provide funds to it for the purpose. The developed countries, specially the United States, are the main contributors to the greenhouse syndrome which could affect Bangladesh. Therefore, it would be only conscionable for these countries to help out Bangladesh in projects designed to secure its coastal areas and for their enlargement.
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. This would only disprove the other prediction made at the climate change seminar – the displacement of some 5.5 million people from Bangladesh’s coastal areas by 2050.
Apart from greater human settlement in the coastal areas or accreted lands to ease the pressure of population, the same areas can play a far bigger role for the national economy in contrast to the present. Coastal areas-specially the coastal islands-are hugely prospective from the perspective of tourism. Tourist resorts established in the coastal islands-like in the Maldives-can be very paying in terms of foreign tourist arrivals. The same prospects are also there in many places in the coastal areas.
Shrimp has been a major item in our export trade in recent years. The coastal areas are exclusively suitable for shrimp cultivation for the export market. Extension of planned shrimp cultivation in the coastal area is possible to many times increase earnings from this sector. Not only shrimp, but sea fishes, crabs, etc., that are generally described as frozen food and exported from Bangladesh, the catches or cultivation of these can be remarkably increased in the coastal area with infrastructure developments by the public sector to promote more private sector investments into such activities.
Valuable deposits of minerals exist in the sandy beaches of the coastal areas such as zircon, rutile, titanium, etc. It is quite possible to extract these minerals and earn huge amounts in foreign currency. The coastal areas are also known to have huge deposits of hydrocarbons like oil and gas. Only limited exploitation of these resources have started with the offshore drilling at Sangu for gas. But gradually, over time, these energy resources can be tapped extensively for the benefit of the country.