Facing the Facts
Prometheus Siddiqui and Ahmed Abu Bakr
A victim of climate change, yet unaware of how dire the consequences may be. Photo: zahedul i khan
Constrained by immediate adversities we often tend to forget that a grave future faces our nation. Many years or perhaps decades from now, our country and many others like us will not be fighting for freedom, land or territorial supremacy but for mere survival; survival in a battle against the forces of nature. In 2009, Bangladesh topped the Global Climate Change Risk Index. International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has stated in its annual report that in Bangladesh 8% of rice and 32% of wheat production is likely to decrease by 2050, severe flooding will increase in the coming years, intensity and frequency of hurricanes shall increase, and potentially the worst displacement in the history of mankind involving 17 million people in this country might take place. Some feel that the issue of climate change is an act of conspiracy or of divergence.
The hard fact however remains that global weather patterns are undoubtedly changing, the seas are definitely rising and the intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as floods and cyclones are increasing. But in this hour of impending doom, are the citizens of Bangladesh doing what it takes for future survival? Millions of dollars have been allotted to Bangladesh to ease her sufferings – do we know how these funds are being utilised? Do we even know nature of the catastrophes we stand to face? The brightest minds of Bangladesh have an obligation, in this hour of need, to stand up and work for the nation's interest, and the interest of her people.
Our first problem is that most of us are unaware of climate change and its effects. Both the government and the private sector are at fault. It is the responsibility of the government and the experts in the field of environmental sciences (both public and private) to educate the people on the issue. All of us need to know how we can contribute to the cause.
Awareness campaigns need to be organised, both as an initiative from the public and the private sector to let the people of the country know about the potential calamities that it faces, and how the rural poor needs to be empowered with resources to minimise the fallouts of a looming disaster. Small information centres that are cost effective but sound in terms of information dissemination can be one of the effective steps in this regard.
Another problem is the lack of adequate institutions that can tackle the problem at hand. Unfortunately, till now we do not seem to have effective independent environmental organisations that are capable of researching and suggesting measures that need to be taken. Such organisations are key to understanding the impacts we are about to face, the time we have to prepare and for coming up with tailor-made solutions that Bangladesh can use. While it is important that such an organisation has to cooperate with the government, it is vital that the organisation has complete freedom and autonomy in its work. Bangladesh is in dire need of such institutions in order to minimise the abuse of power and the squandering of resources which is hampering Bangladesh's battle for survival against climate change.
Digging deeper, the question then arises - - do we have the capacity for such organisations? Do we have the personnel required to man the stations? This year a youth driven organisation called 'The Autumn Foundation' was formed that is working towards creating awareness and educating the youth on Climate Change. They began their operations by organising a daylong seminar at Jahangirnagar University where for the very first time students and youngsters from different walks of life were able to interact with Climate Change experts and be enlightened on this vital issue. They also launched an initiative named 'Return to Aila Campaign' where through a visit to one of the worst affected areas of the disaster, members of the foundation brought back pictures and interviews that stunned many. This initiative is continuing till date and trying to stir up concern for a large number of people who had aced the wrath of nature and are going to face it again in future, possibly on a much larger scale.
Also on 10 October, 2010, as part of the Global Work Party organised by 350 organisations Autumn Foundation took part from Bangladesh in doing their bit for the environment by making an effort to clean up the adjoining area of Dhanmondi Lake; this was a part of a global effort that took place in 188 countries where on that day alone more than 7,500 events took place to show governments around the world that sincere concern is all you need to make a change. Autumn Foundation may seem to be a small initiative now but it is a start that clearly points out to our government that if put to the test even small efforts can make a difference.
As far as the government goes, it has set up the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) and Climate Change Trust Fund Policy to channel its resources towards fighting Climate Change. The government has entailed many large-scale projects as a part of utilising the BCCRF which is worth 110 million USD. The finance minister in his budget speech this year mentioned that projects would include – regular dredging of rivers and canals, strengthening embankments and establishing adequate number of cyclone shelters in coastal areas, reducing the level of air pollution arising from fossil fuel used in vehicles, controlling environmental pollution due to industrialisation, protecting bio-diversity, initiating afforestation activities as well as preserving the limited forest lands of Bangladesh and producing sufficient number of environmental experts. Unfortunately details were not provided on any of these endeavours. A clear road map and laws on implementation of projects or utilisation of funds is yet to be made public. Also it needs to be ensured that there would be no misuse of the fund and it can be accessed easily when a feasible and effective initiative needs to be implemented.
The government must have strong cooperation with any other initiatives from the private sector or NGOs (like Clean Development Mechanism Projects). Research and development is something that is often shunned by the government in policy formulation and declaration. It is imperative that enough resources are devoted to finding out specific ways in which we can fight the risks that face us, instead of modelled solutions that are handed down to us by nations which lack the knowledge on ground realities in Bangladesh.
Unfortunately even though Bangladesh contributes to about 0.1% of the global green house gas emissions, it has to bear the most painful brunt of the actions of developed nations. To add to our preparedness we must start to take care of our local environment as well. We must teach our farmers the importance of sustainable agriculture. Simple techniques can be applied to improve the utilisation of soil and water and that can save millions of takas that would otherwise be spent in flawed systems. Our elders have not been able to protect our precious Earth for us, but do we want to be responsible for a similar failure? Awareness is not the end to this, but simply the means. It's the first step in the mammoth task ahead of us. Time is short and the need for action is dire.
The writers are Fellows of Jagoree and students of North South University.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010