LONDON (AlertNet) - Increasingly extreme weather is worsening food insecurity, displacement and other problems for rural families in Bangladesh, effectively robbing them of basic human rights, argues a report released on Monday.
“Climate change has become one of the major challenges to the enjoyment of the basic rights to life, food, health, water, housing and self-determination,” the Environmental Justice Foundation, which produced the report, said in a statement.
As extreme weather becomes more frequent, recovery from disasters is “alarmingly slow” in Bangladesh, the authors said, with some rural areas continuing to experience food insecurity and high unemployment a year and a half after disasters like destructive floods or storm surges.
Such problems, together with erratic rainfall and greater temperature extremes, mean crop yields are falling or even failing in some rural areas, the report said.
In a country where half the population works in agriculture – the vast majority at subsistence level – and 80 percent live on less than $2 a day, that is putting huge strain on families already struggling to cope with problems such as inadequate farmland, poor rural infrastructure and widespread poverty, the report said.
Increasing saltwater intrusion into drinking water supplies and farm fields, as a result of sea-level rise and storm surges, is adding to rural misery, the authors said. Already 12,000 square kilometers of arable land in coastal and island regions are affected by salinity, the report said, with the Bangladesh environment and forest ministry describing the problem as a “major concern”.
Eventually, rising salt levels are expected to kill half the mangrove forests in Bangladesh’s southern Sundarbans region, removing both a natural resource and a source of protection against storm surges, the report said.
MIGRATION TO CITIES
These climate and environmental pressures are driving growing numbers of people from their homes, particularly in the rural southwest. Many are migrating to cities – particularly Khulna, the country’s third largest city – where most end up living in slums, the report said.
The trend threatens to erode hard-won advances Bangladesh has made in things like reducing death rates in young children, getting more girls into primary and secondary school and reducing the rates of communicable diseases.
“Our collective failures on climate change have critical impacts on food security, health and well-being - the fundamental tenets of shared international commitments on human rights,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation.
Bangladesh is ranked as the second most vulnerable country to climate impacts, behind Haiti, according to a 2012 climate vulnerability index compiled by Maplecroft, an international risk assessment company. The country has contributed little to climate change, however, with per capita emissions that rank 181st out of 193 countries included in the survey.
Women have been disproportionately affected by many climate impacts, the report noted. Many are dying in disasters as they wait for their husbands to return home and decide whether to evacuate, for instance, or because cultural norms mean they are not taught to swim or are reluctant to remove heavy, soaked clothing in disaster situations.
Reducing Bangladesh’s climate-related risks will require a wide range of changes - from reducing climate-changing emissions around the world to instituting legal changes to provide for “planned and voluntary” relocation of people driven from their homes, the report said.
“Climate change is not a problem solely for the future but one that faces us now,” it warned. “Short-sighted political agendas and inaction will ultimately amplify the human and financial costs.”