Policy Briefing - Climate Change in Bangladesh

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani 25th March 2011 19:17

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Produced in 2008, this briefing focuses on the impact of climate change on Bangladesh's rural poor. A great deal has been written on rising sea levels in Bangladesh but, as this paper outlines, climate change also has many other consequences. Rural communities, whose livelihoods are intimately tied to the environment, are profoundly affected by the climate, yet have received little attention in the climate change literature. This aim of this briefing is to help address this shortcoming by, first, setting out the current understanding of climate change and its impacts for Bangladesh and, second, demonstrating that through immediate government action and community based adaptation the needs of those most affected by climate change can be met.

This page sets the background to the report, while other sections of the report can be seen in the Related Pages section to the right. A PDF version is available here

Climate change in Bangladesh

Some level of uncertainty is inevitable in measuring and anticipating climate change. Attributing individual current events to climate change is impossible due to inherent climate variability, whilst a lack of observations over a sufficiently long time frame or narrow geographical area can hamper the analysis of climate trends. However, the degree of certainty over all aspects of climate change has increased in recent years, and in particular between the publication of the IPCC's reports in 2001 and 2007.

As a result, there is now higher confidence in climate projections, including regional-scale warming, wind patterns, precipitation and some aspects of extreme events. Country-scale trends and projections, however, remain difficult to discern and as a result there have been many more studies focussed on South Asia than on Bangladesh. However, many regional observations and predictions have particular relevance for Bangladesh and are therefore included in the following summary of current and future climate change and the associated impacts.

The following is drawn predominantly from the IPCC's 2007 report but also relies in places on Bangladesh government sources (including the 2005 NAPA) and Practical Action's own experiences in Bangladesh.

Climate change today

The South-Asia region is broadly defined by the IPCC as consisting of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Tibetan Plateau. However, the whole region has large climate variability, making climate change harder to identify and meaning that the current level of understanding of how the climate is influenced by human activity is low. Despite this, climate anomalies and changes in extreme events have been observed throughout the region, with intense rains and floods, droughts and cyclones/typhoons reported. Of particular note is severe and recurrent flooding Bangladesh in recent years, and the decrease in frequency (but increase of intensity) of monsoon depressions in the Bay of Bengal since 1970. More gradual year-on-year temperature and precipitation changes have also been observed in Bangladesh. In the 14 years between 1985 and 1998 the temperature in May has risen by 1°C, and by 0.5°C in November. Decadal precipitation has been recorded above the long term average since the 1960s.

It is important to note that many of the impacts of climate change are experienced because changes in rainfall, sea level and temperature aggravate existing vulnerabilities. For example, upstream deforestation is a major factor behind recurrent flooding - but the impact of flooding becomes increasingly severe as rainfall increases or extreme rainfall events become more frequent. Similar impacts have been felt across different sectors in Bangladesh:

• Fisher communities on Bangladesh report that the availability of many local species has declined with the silting up of river beds, changes in temperature, and earlier flooding. Communities are coping by selling labour, migrating and borrowing money from money lenders.

• Water shortages and poor water quality have been attributed to the effects of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, aggravated by climate change, across the South Asia region including in Bangladesh.

• Coastal zones throughout the region have suffered a vast loss of mangroves during the last 50 years, mainly due to human activity, but also due to salt water intrusion in Bangladesh.

• Droughts and lower precipitation have also contributed to the loss of wetlands and the severe degradation of ecosystems around the deltas of Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and China.

• The incidence of diarrhoeal diseases and other infectious diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, malaria and dengue fever is expected to increase due to severe floods, rainfall and droughts in combination with poverty, poor access to safe water and poor sanitation. High temperatures and poor hygiene contribute to bacterial proliferation.

• Many parts of Asia have suffered a reduction in food production due to reduced water availability following increases in temperature, reduction in rain fall days, and increased frequency of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO).