E&E's Lisa Friedman explores storm-ravaged Bengali village, adaptation efforts

As the international community debates how to proceed with a post-2012 climate treaty, many developing nations, like Bangladesh, are already seeing the impacts of climate change. People in villages throughout this country are trying to adapt to their changing climate, but for many villagers, migration is the only option. In this special report, E&E reporter Lisa Friedman tours the village of Gabura and witnesses the plight of its villagers as they rebuild after a damaging storm.


Lisa Friedman: The Kholpetua River runs placid through southwest Bangladesh this October morning, but it's not always so calm. My guide, local environmental activist Mohon Mondal, tells me storms come more frequently and more ferociously now than they did when he was growing up.

Four times in the past five months floods have broken through these embankments and inundated villages. Just a few weeks ago this area has suffered a tidal search. In a single night dams broke in eight places along the river.

Mahone is taking me to the village of Gabura, which was hit the hardest. When we arrive I'm hardly prepared for what I see it. Dozens of the village’s young men are heaving mud out of massive pits and hauling baskets on their heads up a ravine.

This embankment wasn't just broken, it was ravaged. Mahone explains that the levy was made up of just mud and sticks. There's no money for anything stronger here and the only material they have to rebuild with is more mud.

Researchers say this part to the cruelty of climate change in Bangladesh. Not only does its geographic location make it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, but its crippling poverty and makeshift infrastructure mean the catastrophes hurt more people here and recovery is arduous.

In Gabura and elsewhere are frequent storms have brought too much saline water inland and ruined the rice fields they depend on for employment and food. Shrimp farms have replaced rice, but they've only brought a fraction of the jobs.

Villagers say their only options now are to sell vegetables or work the net to catch shrimp fry. A day's labor pays about $1.50. Starvation is a constant fear.

Many villagers have been here for generations. They say they don't want to leave, but they're starting to. Some move to Dhaka or nearby cities. Others cross the border to India.

The very poorest say they’re stuck and will make do the best they can. Climate migration is a growing reality around much of the world.

Scientists predict 200 million people will be forced out of their homes worldwide by mid-century. That's equivalent to two thirds of the US population.

In Bangladesh alone the numbers could reach 15 million and maybe double that by the century’s end. Right now most of the migration in Bangladesh is internal.

Villagers move to nearby port cities or to the chaotic, overflowing capital of Dhaka. More than 12 million people live here today and the World Bank predicts that in just 10 years Dhaka will be the world's third-largest city.

Already India is fencing off its border with Bangladesh, in part out of fear out of having to absorb millions of climate refugees. Some experts like Dr. Omar Rahman of the Independent University of Bangladesh say migration is a distant issue.

Dr. Omar Rahman: The climate migration, I think, yes it will happen. But it will happen after every single thing else has been exhausted. And I would much rather focus on trying to get to delay. It may be inevitable, but let’s try to delay it as much as we can.

Lisa Friedman: The country has more immediate needs like expanding food production and improving infrastructure. Bangladesh is taking strong steps to adapt to climate change, having spent 10 billion taka, about 150 million U.S. dollars over the last two decades.

One adaptation project is being spearheaded by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, where researchers are developing new strains of rights that can sustain high salinity levels.

In Gabura, though, the villagers are still suffering. They continue to rebuild the levy and they brace for another flood. They hope that next time the mud will hold. For ClimateWire, this is Lisa Friedman.

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