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To survive, we must combat environmental desertification

Hira  Talukder

Hira Talukder

Tue, 4 Jun 24

For the past two decades, unusual weather patterns have been observed worldwide. Where once there used to be cries for a drop of water in the scorching deserts, now the deserts are witnessing rainfall, painting the landscape green. Conversely, the opposite scenario is visible in the Indian subcontinent and Europe. Most areas in South Asia, including Bangladesh, now experience severe heatwaves during the summer. While Europe, which used to be predominantly cold, is facing intense heatwaves for the most part of the year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently warned in a published report that if global temperatures are not reduced soon, South Asia, including Bangladesh, could suffer catastrophic consequences. The entire region could be engulfed by desertification.

According to the IPCC report, Bangladesh's natural environment is facing significant problems due to global climate change. Evidence has also been found. In April of this year alone, intense heatwaves have caused extreme discomfort in daily life for about 31 days. Breaking the record for the highest temperature in 58 years, Chuadanga recorded a temperature of 43.7 degrees Celsius on April 30th. This serves as an indication of Bangladesh's progression towards desertification due to climate change. Recently, the devastating cyclone "Remal" has persistently lingered over Bangladesh for an unusually long time, exacerbating concerns.

On the flip side, over the past four decades, siltation and sand have filled the Padma River's channel by at least 20 meters. Without the flow of water, sediment deposition will not occur. Now during the rainy season, the waves in the Padma are no longer visible in the Rajshahi Kushtia region. And in the dry season, the entire bed of the Padma seems to transform into parched desert land. If the flow is not restored soon, the Padma River could face extinction in no time. Recently, a long-term research has been conducted regarding the decline in fish population in the Padma River. This research involved collaboration between Rajshahi University and a group of researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia. According to their findings, compared to 1984, during dry seasons, the volume of the Padma River has decreased by about 50 percent. The depth of the water has decreased by 17.8 percent, the flow has reduced by 26.2 percent, and the supply of freshwater has decreased by up to 90 percent. An international scientific journal called "Biodiversity and Conservation," published from the Netherlands, released a study last January, stating that the average annual rainfall in the Padma basin of Bangladesh has decreased by 19.2 percent. In this basin, where the temperature was 25.1 degrees Celsius in 1981, it has risen to 26.2 degrees Celsius in 2019. Researchers indicated that the dry season was chosen for the study primarily to understand the natural condition of the Padma River.

On the other hand, due to geographical reasons, Bangladesh is always prone to disasters. Alongside, global warming has intensified the severity of disasters. Especially, natural calamities like severe heatwaves, cyclones, floods, droughts, salinity in coastal areas, river erosion, or lightning strikes have increased alarmingly. Their impact is affecting our normal lives.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 report, Bangladesh has been hit by 185 major climate change-related disasters over the past 20 years. Among them, there are disasters like floods, cyclones, salinity intrusion, and landslides. These disasters have resulted in the loss of 11,450 lives and caused economic damage of nearly $400 crore.

Environmental scientists have long been warning that Bangladesh will suffer more if climate change and sea level rise continue. Here, the frequency and intensity of disasters like floods, flash floods, cyclones, storm surges, heavy rainfall, drought, and salinity intrusion will increase. The northern region will experience more droughts and desertification, while the southern region will face intensified cyclones and hurricanes. If the sea level rises, it will bring disaster upon the people living in the coastal areas and the riverside regions of Bangladesh. Hundreds of square kilometers of low-lying and other vulnerable areas will be inundated. The extensive reach of flooding will pose a significant threat to people's livelihoods, agriculture, livestock, infrastructure, and physical structures. The evidence lies in the menacing floods, cyclones, tidal surges, and salinity intrusion of last couple of years. Another proof of this is the terrible floods in Sylhet region. As a result of heavy rains in Assam and Meghalaya in upstream India, various areas including Sylhet, Sunamganj and some districts in the northern region were suddenly flooded. As climate change leads to water crises, various regions are increasingly prone to desertification, and similarly, sudden floods are observed due to the overflow of water in Sylhet. Undoubtedly, climate change will further exacerbate this situation.

According to the latest research from IPCC, as a consequence of climate change, the average annual temperature will increase by 1.4 degrees Celsius by the year 2050, compared to the current time. In comparison to the increase in average temperature during the rainy season, the rate of increase in average temperature during the winter season will be higher. The severity of winter will decrease significantly, but the level of heat in the summer will gradually increase. This will result in the identification of only four distinct seasons instead of the current six seasons in the country. According to a World Bank estimate, by the year 2050, as a result of climate change, 1 crore 33 lakh people in Bangladesh's coastal areas will lose their habitats. If the rate of temperature rise remains unchanged, a significant portion of the total land area will be submerged. As a result, the direct impact of climate change will be felt on the limited land resources. Furthermore, there will be more extensive desertification, increased salinity, and various other disasters. Soil fertility will decline, leading to reduced productivity. The crisis of resources combined with overpopulation will result in an inevitable catastrophe.

So, the world must take effective steps now to combat climate change and protect the environment, fulfilling the related commitments. Vulnerable countries like Bangladesh suffer due to the lack of climate financing. Developed countries often promise but fail to deliver aid. For Bangladesh, tackling climate risks without sufficient financing is challenging. In the current fiscal year, the Bangladesh government has allocated $3.5 billion for adaptation, including health. However, our annual needs are almost $9 billion. International support is necessary for the remaining funds. Unfortunately, we cannot trust each other because promises and commitments are always left unfulfilled. We cannot afford to worsen climate change any further. To achieve this, we must reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Adaptation has limits. If we do not control our emissions, we will face even greater challenges ahead.

In such a precarious environment, the theme chosen for this year's World Environment Day is: "Restoring land, stopping desertification, and achieving our resilience against drought". What is to be seen now is, how much we will be able to save the whole world including Bangladesh by preventing desertification and achieving drought resilience.

Author: Journalist

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