Climate Change and Bangladesh
Floundering for the Real Answers
A few weeks ago The Daily Star published an article acquired from Agence France-Presse titled, “Bangladesh gaining land, not losing: scientists” For those of us who are not climatologists, the following conclusion reached by the AFP article may have engendered a sense of relief regarding the effects of climate change in Bangladesh: “New data shows that Bangladesh's landmass is increasing, contradicting forecasts that the South Asian nation will be under water by the end of the century.”
Versions of the very same article with the headline “Bangladesh gaining landmass not losing” appeared in the China Post, Egypt news online and BBC. Since the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the future has looked glum for the deltaic nation. The finding that Bangladesh is increasing in landmass is sure to dispel notions of climate-produced chaos, starvation and war.
Or is it?
Media coverage of the recent findings produced by the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), proving that Bangladesh is gaining land across its southern coast has only served to distort public understanding of the widespread consequences of climate change. As Maminul Haque Sarker, head of CEGIS' Morphology Division, admits, “I feel embarrassed. This is not what I meant to say at all.”
Sarker should feel embarrassed, as his name has been used to legitimise the AFP article's claim. And since publication, its reach has been global. Over 1,200 search results can be yielded on Google by just typing Sarker's name. Most of which reiterate the same message: The IPCC is wrong, Bangladesh will not drown.
In reality things are not so simple, as Sarker attests, “I did say that rising sea levels and river erosion were both speeding up the pace of land accretion, but, I did not say this process would compensate for climate change induced erosion.”
Accretion is the process by which material is added to a tectonic plate. In the case of Bangladesh this material consists of sediments originating from the Himalayas which traveled to the south-western coast via the Meghna, Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems.
|Source: www.world proutassembly.org
The Himalayas are still geologically active, growing at a rate of 5mm per year and releasing sediment as a result. Since 1973 CEGIS has been analysing river morphology using satellite images and have found that every year one billion tonnes of sediment are carried to the coast to form new estuaries. This process has continued at a rate that has seen landmass increase by 20 square kilometres annually. Estuaries are the tidal mouths of rivers and they are often characterised by sedimentation carried from terrestrial overflow. If current trends remain consistent Bangladesh could gain 1,000 square kilometres of land by 2050.
The accretion process is not an atypical phenomenon; it is present around the Pacific Rim, the western coast of North America, the eastern coast of Australia and New Zealand.
According to historical maps, landmass has been increasing annually by 10 square kilometres for the past century. In the last 20 years this rate has doubled due to intensive land use and deforestation.
But how do these findings play into environmental concerns?
(R) thedailystar.net 2008