Comment: SAARC summit should make a bridge to face climate change

“I had five houses but only one is left, all are destroyed by cyclone Ayla. We were not poor, we had everything but now we are street beggar. It happened within a few seconds. Water flows up to the eight feet over the embankment. Now it looks like sea. In every tide saline water flows over the land so we have no way to grow here anything. How shall we get food, shelter and education now? Some people are going to Dhaka and other city but we cannot dare to do this, ultimately we have no choice. We have to leave this place.”

That is a statement of one of Ayla’s victims (at Khulan, a southern part of Bangladesh), made to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

They are waiting to leave Khulan. 200,000 people have already migrated from the area.

People in Bangladesh are already living with the effects of climate change. Bangladesh is trapped between the Himalayas in the north and the encroaching Bay of Bengal to the south, and is the most vulnerable country in the world to natural disasters due to the frequency of extreme climate changes, and its high population density.

At the 16th summit of  the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Nobel Laureate and chairperson of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachaur, said that the Summit would provide an opportunity for SAARC countries to discuss common problems related to climate change that will affect all the countries of SAARC.

However, the slogan of the 17th SAARC summit of the Maldives is`Building Bridge’. The effects of the climate change should be the main focus and SAARC countries should build bridges to face these effects.

All the eight SAARC countries  are facing the effects of climate change: Bangladesh is facing internal migration of its people. Climate change has affected agriculture, so every day large number of people are migrating from village to capital and they are living an unhygienic life, with no sanitation facilities or drinking water. A World Bank study says that in the near future 700 million people in India will migrate to urban areas due to the impact of climate change on agriculture.

The 17th SAARC Summit is being held in the Maldives. Eighty percent of its 1,200 islands are no more than one metre above sea level, and scientists fear the sea may rise up to 0.9cm a year. If the world does not fight against climate change, within 100 years the Maldives could become uninhabitable.

The country’s 360,000 citizens would be forced to evacuate. In Kandholhudhoo in the Maldives, tidal surges already flood homes every fortnight.

Sri Lanka is also vulnerable country to the effects of climate change. Once it used to be said that that climate change in Sri Lanka was more dangerous than civil war – major part of Jaffna and other northern areas of Sri Lanka will be submerged when the sea level rises.

Climate change in Sri Lanka will have dire consequence for water, agriculture, health and coastal regions. Already there are early signs of impact, which will reach serious proportions by 2025.

Melting glaciers could affect 500 million people in South Asia, alongside rising sea level, changing rainfall patterns and scarcity of drinking water. Like Bangladesh, rural Nepalese are already living in poverty due to this effect, and winter wheat crops have been failed due to the warmer climate. Indian wheat is also facing that problem.

Nepal, Bhutan and the Himalayan mountainous region are a few of the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change. Pakistan has suffered from dangerous floods for a long time.

Thus all the South Asian countries are facing the effects of climate change. Bangladesh is the among most vulnerable of these while the 17th SAARC host country, the Maldives, is no less vulnerable than Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is also in the same condition.

So we hope that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, and the President of the Maldives, will take the lead to make a bridge to face the climate change. Other affected countries: Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Afghanistan should also help to make this bridge. The richest country in the world, the USA, is an observer of SAARC now. Their representative is joining the summit. They have a duty to fight together with the worst climate-affected countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and others.

Swadesh Roy is Executive Editor of the The Daily Janakantha, Bangladesh.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]