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Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Suffering of the Poor

  • Dr. Golam Rasul
  • 17th July, 2022 09:42:44 AM
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Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Suffering of the Poor

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Climate-related disasters such as floods, storms, droughts and heat waves are becoming increasingly common and severe because of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. The connection between climate change, natural disasters, and their impact on human being is becoming more obvious. Climate change has already taken a toll on the world's poorest and developing countries.

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. According to a World Bank study, over 97% of its geographic area and about 98% of its population are at risk of multiple hazards. Every year, the country faces different natural disasters and poor people incur huge economic losses due to climate-induced disasters such as flood, cyclone, river bank erosion, sea level rise, saline water intrusion, ecosystem degradation and drought. Just in the last month, flash flood damaged over 5,000 hectares of Boro crops in Sunamganj haors worth around Tk 100 crore. Similar situation was reported in Sylhet haors. Flooding has also wreaked havoc on Sylhet's fishery resources. According to the Department of Fisheries, the flash floods inundated approximately 20,000 fisheries, resulting in massive economic losses. Similarly, pre-monsoon floods in 2017 affected 220,000 hectares of nearly ready-to-harvest Boro rice incurring huge economic losses. Another round of devastating floods hit Sylhet and other northern districts in Bangladesh, forcing thousands of families to flee their homes and seek temporary shelters in schools and other locations.

The climate is constantly changing, and the environment is rapidly degrading. A recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (February, 2022) confirmed that climate change is accelerating, and climate-related loss and damage are increasing. According to the International Fund for Relief and Development (IFRC), extreme weather events and climate disasters killed over 410,000 people and affected the lives of 1.7 billion people around the world in the last few decades. Over 95 per cent of deaths by natural disaster occurred in developing countries. Climate change is also displacing millions of people. In 2020 alone, 30 million people were displaced due to weather-related events. Economic losses due to weather and climate-related extreme events climbed from $175 billion in 1970–1979 to $1.38 trillion in 2010–2019.

Scientists now agree that the impacts of climate change would intensify even if emissions were reduced to keep global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) because the action on mitigation and adaptation measures have been slow and inadequate. Some climate change impacts are unavoidable because they have already been 'locked in' to the Earth's system. Besides, losses and damages may occur where adaptation limits have already been reached and adaptation is physically and technically impossible and socially unacceptable.

Bangladesh has the lowest per capita CO2 emissions in the world. Despite the fact that Bangladeshis are among the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, Bangladesh and other low- and middle-income countries have suffered the burden of climate-related losses and damages most. According to the IPCC’s recent assessment, Bangladesh suffers huge economic and non-economic losses due to change in climate. Climate-related disasters have affected approximately 850,000 households and damaged about 250,000 hectares of cultivable land in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, every year thousands of people lose their crops, cattle, land, homestead, and livelihood assets and they are displaced due to floods, riverbank erosion, cyclones, and other natural disasters. Thousands of people were displaced by the super cyclones Sidr and Aila. According to a World Bank report published in 2018, as many as 13.3 million Bangladeshi may be compelled to migrate by 2050 due to intensified climate impacts. Losing land, homestead and livelihood assets, most of them will move to towns and cities and will take shelter in slums.

The impact of climate change is more severe in coastal areas in Bangladesh. According to the IPCC report, the freshwater river area in the southwest coastal zone in Bangladesh is anticipated to shrink from 41% to 17% between 2012 and 2050. Saltwater is intruding into freshwater in the coastal belt due to lower flow in dry season and sea levels rise. This is affecting coastal ecosystems, which has not only disrupted agricultural livelihoods but also contaminated drinking water resources, increased health risks, food insecurity and malnutrition in the coastal areas.

Freshwater scarcity has caused and will continue to cause waterborne diseases. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests a link between climate-related calamities and health and disease. Extreme weather phenomena such as floods, cyclones, storms, droughts, heat waves and sea-level rise increases the risk of deaths, injuries, and psychological stress. In Bangladesh and other developing nations, the link between excessive rainfall, floods, and waterborne diseases is well established. According to the IPCC’s assessment, Bangladesh would face a growing disease burden in climate hotspots, resulting in 2.2 million more E. coli diseases by 2100.

Because of increasing suffering of the poor, loss and damage has become an important aspect in the international climate negotiations though the agreement on loss and damage was difficult and suffered many setbacks. Loss and damage, initially recognised in COP 16 in the Cancún Adaptation Framework and later in the COP 19 through the establishment of Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage.

Loss and damage had also been a contested issue in COP 26 in 2021. After strong pressure from developing countries in COP 26, loss and damage were recognised as important aspects of climate negotiation. The COP 26 acknowledged that “Climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage and …, will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat.” It also emphasised the importance of increasing action and support, including finance, technology transfer, and capacity building, for implementing approaches to avoiding, mitigating, and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries that are especially vulnerable to these effects. Despite the fact that the poor people of developing countries are suffering most from climate change, no concrete step has been taken to compensate the poor people of developing countries who are the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

It is critical to make commitments to help the poor people who have suffered the most because of climate change. It is necessary to take comprehensive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build clear national and international mechanisms to mitigate climate risks while compensating the poor from developing countries. Long-term climate finance and support should be made available to developing countries in order to help poor people adapt to climate change in a sustainable way.

The writer is a Professor, Department of Economics, International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT). E-mail: [email protected]