Bangladesh confronts climate change: keeping our heads above water

Bangladesh confronts climate change: keeping our heads above water

When 500,000 Bangladeshis fled to huge concrete cyclone shelters to escape Cyclone Roanu in May 2016, it has hardly reported. Shelters and warning systems have already cut the death rate from super cyclones by 98%, but because few people died and the shelters were designed and built by Bangladeshis, not by aid agencies, few are aware of this striking progress.

Climate change will cause stronger and more destructive cyclones and Bangladeshis are already acting to prevent their country from drowning. This story is told Bangladesh Confronts Climate Change: Keeping Our Heads Above Water, by Manoj Roy, Joseph Hanlon and David Hulme, which has just been made available as a free, open access download.  

Three decades ago Bangladeshi scientists recognised that global warming would produce more destructive cyclones, heavier rain, more serious floods - combined with rising sea level when one-tenth of Bangladesh is less than 2 metres above sea level. Scientists and government officials took a two-pronged approach.

First, they prioritised international climate change talks, sending skilled teams that mixed the best government and non-governmental experts. Bangladeshis played a key role in the Paris climate summit last year in which industrialised countries agreed new cuts in greenhouse gases.

Second, they accelerated programmes to deal with environmental damage, which they knew would be made worse by climate change. For example, new rice varieties have made the country self-sufficient, but even newer strains will deal with higher heat and salt intrusion. And it is not just the agronomists and engineers. Local people realised that in a living delta with millions of tonnes of silt being deposited annually, it is possible to raise the land to match sea level rise.

“This important new book challenges the passive portrayal of countries of the Global South and critiques the unhelpful ways they have been acted on by international ‘experts’. A highly readable and carefully researched account for everyone interested in the local and global dilemmas posed by climate change." Professor David Lewis, London School of Economics.

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