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Nature has never made it easy to live in Bangladesh, situated in the Ganges Delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Most of the country is less than ten meters above sea level; it is swamped by annual floods, and battered by cyclones and tornadoes, while the interior can be subject to drought. With nearly 150 million inhabitants, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and as more warnings on climate change appear, Bangladesh is set to be an increasing source of climate migrants.

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In low-lying areas, it is not unusual to be knee-deep in water in the flood season, but while some crops such as rice depend on rising waters, flooding has now become more extreme and unpredictable. Crops have been destroyed and livestock lost; houses made from bamboo, straw and corrugated iron, i.e. designed to be portable when floodwaters come, have been washed away. People have been forced to tear down their homes and move dozens of times as waters rise ever higher; and when they return after the waters recede they often find that their land has simply disappeared, which means more and more people crowding onto less and less land, and more and more disputes. Summer temperatures are climbing in Bangladesh, and sea levels appear to be rising. In some coastal areas, rice paddies have become too salty, so crops have been abandoned and rice growers have turned to shrimp farming. Weather phenomena are more extreme and more erratic: sometimes estuaries have stopped ebbing and flowing, leaving the water at the high-tide level, and years with no winter cause serious consequences for the potato crop. The direction of the monsoon has changed, now moving west instead of north across the country, and when it fails there can be severe drought.

Global warning and climate change are being held responsible, and developments in Bangladesh could be dramatic. The country where many people have never driven a car, run an air-conditioner or done much at all to increase carbon emissions, could well end up on the front line in the battle against climate change.

Abir Abdullah

Abir Abdullah

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