Rise in sea levels to affect 300 million by 2050

Workers collect shrimps from a shrimp farm in Satkhira, a coastal district in southern Bangladesh. Photo: UCAN/Stephan Uttom

Stephan Uttom and
Rock Ronald Rozario

Rising sea levels resulting from climate change will hit 300 million people globally, including 42 million people in Bangladesh, by 2050, according to Climate Central, a United States-based climate science group.

The sea-level rise is well on track to destroy the lives and livelihoods of three times more people than was originally thought, it said citing a study published by British scientific journal Nature Communications on October 29.

Without a decrease in carbon emissions, the number of affected people will rise to 630 million by the turn of the next century, Climate Central said.

Human activities that cause pollution and trigger solar-heat trapping or global warming result in the melting of polar icebergs and glaciers, increasing the volume of water discharged into the oceans, the study says. At the current pace sea levels could rise between 60 centimetres and 2.1 metres this century.

The effect would be frequent coastal flooding leading to the destruction of homes, crops, livelihoods, and greater risks to entire cities and communities.

Most vulnerable people—about 237 million—live in Asia. Those living in mainland China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand face the greatest threats, Climate Central said.

Bangladesh is well aware of the risks due to sea levels rising, A.K.M. Rafiq Ahmed, director-general of the Department of Environment, said on October 30.

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“To reduce the risks of frequent coastal flooding, the government has constructed embankments, and projects are underway to increase their height. Also, there are alternative livelihood projects to assist people already affected by coastal flooding and an increase in salinity,” Ahmed said.

He added that there are efforts in Bangladesh to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, but developed countries must make better efforts to do the same as they are mostly responsible for global warming.

Bangladesh is already experiencing the result of rising sea levels, according to William Pintu Gomes, head of the disaster management programme at Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh.

“Over the past 10 years, I have seen an increase in coastal flooding and saline water intrusion into more and more areas. These days, roads and embankments find themselves under water during high tides, which didn’t happen in the past,” Gomes said.

He noted that to reduce risks from rising sea levels and flooding, Bangladesh needs to construct embankments in coastal areas that are about six metres high, which the country cannot afford.

“Rich and developed countries should not only step forward by reducing pollution but should also help poor and vulnerable countries like Bangladesh tackle the risks,” he added.

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The frequency of natural disasters like cyclones is also adding to the risks, Ainun Nishat, a prominent hydrologist and climatologist, said that adding that the impending disaster being predicted is already unfolding.

“But we are not ready to face it or to reduce the risks. People are losing their lives, homes and livelihoods due to flooding, cyclones and increasing salinity in coastal areas,” Nishat, a former vice-chancellor of BRAC University in Dhaka, said. UCAN

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