Bangladesh, Poster Child Country
Nestled between India and Myanmar, Bangladesh sits on a low-lying river delta blanketed by lush crop fields, dense mangrove forests, and teeming cities.
Bangladesh is a small nation, only 56,000 square miles, a little bigger than North Carolina.
But it’s packed: clocking in at nearly 3,000 people per square mile, Bangladesh is the densest country with a population over ten million.
Just south of the foothills of the Himalaya, Bangladesh is criss-crossed with rivers. The Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers, which begin high up in the Himalayan mountains, lacerate Bangladesh’s fertile fields as they wind through the country and empty into the Bay of Bengal.
As a result of this abundant water source, agriculture is a large part of Bangladesh' economy, with over 60% of arable land in cultivation. In rural Bangladesh, most people depend on the land for survival, and even small shifts in weather patterns can make rural life harder to sustain.
Rising Sea Levels
Few countries are more at risk of climate-related devastation than Bangladesh.
Two-thirds of Bangladesh sits fewer than five meters above sea level, and the country is routinely rocked by bad floods, erosion, and cyclones, which thrash the low-lying coastal south.
Floods swamp a full fifth of the country each year, and extreme flooding is predicted to increase as the sea level rises, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. A two-foot rise in sea level could cause Bangladesh to lose 40 percent of its agricultural land, depriving millions of property and livelihoods.
Erosion could worsen too. In places like Bhola, riverbank erosion strips away between 5,000 and 6,000 hectares of land each year. As flooding data from 2013 shows, this is especially pronounced nearby rivers and deltas throughout the country.
While experts stress that many factors contribute to land loss, climate change is likely to accelerate destructive erosion in Bangladesh in the coming decades, especially in the dynamic Meghna estuary, driving more and more people to Dhaka’s slums.
“For anyone who wants to talk about climate change, Bangladesh has become the iconic, poster-child country to denote vulnerability,” Huq said. “It used to be Bangladesh poverty, now it’s Bangladesh poverty and climate change.”
Home No More
Shamshuddin was born near Elisha, a small fishing community on the northeastern corner of Bhola Island, a long spit of land in the Meghna River.
From Elisha’s muddy bank, the Meghna looks like an ocean; the horizon is closer than the river’s distant shore. On most days, the river teems with fishing boats, wooden half-moons coughing black smoke, and men repair nets on the embankment.
Small houses huddle along the riverbank, and sandbags and concrete blocks line the beach: efforts to shore up the muddy seawall, and slow the persistent erosion that has long plagued Elisha.
Despite these efforts, the river still pulls soil from the bank, erasing the shoreline bit by bit. During the monsoon season, floods bathe whole villages in water, sweeping chunks of land into the river.
Many people here have been displaced more than once, and residents say the problem is getting worse.