Page 10 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 10


       What will become of

       Bangladesh’s climate migrants?

       Millions of people on the Bengali coast are vulnerable to rising sea levels and may have
       to leave their homes. Meet the forerunners of a looming existential crisis for the south
       Asian country

       By Megan Darby

                                When Cyclone Aila hit the
                                coast of Bangladesh in May
                                2009, water swelled over
                                embankments along the
                                Kholpetua river.

                                The home Sirajul Islam
                                (pictured) shared with his wife
                                and four children in Kolbari
                                village was flooded, along
                                with the single acre he used
                                to raise shrimp.

       They left for Shyamnagar town, 15km away, where for four
       months he made 300-400 taka a day ($4-5) driving a rented

       When the floodwater subsided, his field was too salty for
       shrimp. Village buildings were flattened and there was no
       fresh water to drink. So in 2011, the family went to seek their
       fortune in the capital Dhaka.

       “The cyclone had broken my economical backbone by
       destroying everything,” says Islam. “If there had not been
       such a big cyclone, I would not have moved to Dhaka.”

       Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina has told the UN
       that a one-metre rise in sea level – a plausible scenario this
       century – would submerge a fifth of the country and turn 30   Dislocation: Sirajul Islam and his family left home for five years after
       million people into “climate migrants”.
                                                            Cyclone Aila destroyed his coastal livelihood
       Islam shows off a set of deer antlers, a trophy from hunting
       in the Sundarbans, across the river. Most of the household
       income is from selling fish, crab and honey gathered in   Over the past two decades, Bangladesh’s rural population
       the mangroves – supplemented from his eldest daughter’s   has been pouring into its cities. A 2014 slum census found
       wages at a garment factory in Chittagong.            the number of people living on the margins of cities had
                                                            doubled to 2.2 million since 1997. Meanwhile, the population
       If there were to be another cyclone, Islam says “I would fight”   in southwestern coastal regions is stagnating.
       to stay. It is not likely to get any easier, though. Sea levels are
       set to rise, compounding the problem of salt intrusion into   A smaller, but significant, number of displaced people
       groundwater. Tropical cyclones are expected to get more   cross borders, which is where it becomes a matter of at
       intense and destructive with global warming. In combination,   least regional, if not international concern. Up to 20 million
       they raise the risk of another devastating storm surge.  Bangladeshis are said to be living illegally in neighbouring
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