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Published on 5 April 2024

How climate change is forcing people to abandon their homes in Bangladesh

Despite contributing less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Bangladesh is the seventh most ‘climate vulnerable’ country in the world and is regularly plagued by cyclones and devastating floods which wipe out homes, livelihoods and push people into extreme poverty.

According to the World Bank, average tropical cyclones cost Bangladesh around $1 billion a year, and by 2050, severe flooding could cause the country’s GDP to fall by up to 9%. Shockingly, according to the government of Bangladesh, by 2050, one in seven people in the country will be displaced as a result of climate change, some 13.3 million people. 

RTE’s Philip Boucher Hayes recently travelled to southern Bangladesh as part of a new series, Rising Tides: Ireland’s Future in a Warmer World, to witness the impact of flooding and coastal erosion on communities first hand, as well as to explore ways in which people are forced to adapt.

Image credits and information i
Nuzhat Jabin is Christian Aid’s Country Director in Bangladesh. Credit: Earth Horizon
Woman talking

Nuzhat Jabin, Christian Aid’s Country Director in Bangladesh told the programme about the impact the climate crisis is having on the country of around 174 million people.

In the last three decades, we’ve lost 10% of arable lands. By 2050, the projection is that we are likely to lose another 8-10% of land.

- Nuzhat.

Philip travelled with Christian Aid to the Bangabandhu slum in Barisal city and met with married mum of four, Masuma Begum.

​​​​​​​Masuma grew up and married
in a village called Durgapur, situated along the Tetulla river in a rural area of Barisal. Masuma and her husband were farmers and also reared cattle. However, soil erosion and rising river water levels flooded their land and eight years ago they were left with no choice but to abandon their home. 

What was the family’s farmland now lies over a kilometre out to sea.

Masuma told Philip: I had a nice house here and was living happily. We got food from our crops and trees. We drank fresh milk from the cows that we had reared. We grew rice, lentils, potatoes and sesame in our fields”.

Image credits and information i
Masuma Begum was forced to abandon her home due to soil erosion and flooding. Credit: Earth Horizon
Woman looking off to side

It was very hard to move here from that place. There was a family grave. River erosion took it all. We lived a happy life there.

- Masuma.

Masuma’s family moved to Barisal city to start a new life and have since lived in Bangabandhu slum, in the city. The slum is home to thousands of other ‘climate refugees’ like Masuma who have been forced to abandon their homes following cyclones, as a consequence of land erosion or as a result of soil salination destroying coastal farmland.

Masuma's husband now earns a living as a rickshaw driver but he struggles with his health, which limits his ability to work. They also have to spend a lot of their money on his medical treatment.

To make ends meet, Masuma runs a beauty parlor from her home for women and girls from the slum. Despite their best efforts, Masuma and her family sometimes struggle to eat three meals a day due to their irregular income.

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Masuma Begum outside her home in Bangabandhu slum, Barisal. Credit: AVAS
Woman standing in doorway

With funding from the Climate Bridge Fund, Christian Aid’s local partner Association of Voluntary Actions for Society (AVAS) established a community centre in Bangabandhu slum to support 4,000 people like Masuma displaced by the climate crisis.

Masuma attends the centre, which provides healthcare as well as offering legal support to help local people access welfare. Masuma also received a grant of 10,000 BDT (equivalent of €85) to scale up her beauty parlour.  

Bangabandhu slum is regularly flooded by the Kirtonkhola river and is lacking in both sanitation and safe drinking water. In response, Christian Aid and its local partner AVAS have also constructed 20 water points, five latrine blocks and a 1,500-foot drain to improve sanitation in the slum.  

Despite the struggles people are facing because of the climate crisis, efforts to prepare for environmental disasters have helped reduce loss of life in Bangladesh, with many Bangladeshis seeing themselves as the most climate adapted country in the world.

As Nuzhat explained: “In places like Dublin there is no expectation that when they are hit by a storm that they will be losing assets or losing their lives. Here we anticipate storms and our disaster preparedness is done accordingly. As a result, we have lost fewer lives in Bangladesh.”

The United Nations has estimated that by the end of the decade, poorer countries across the world will need
up to $300 billion each year just to adapt to the climate crisis. Bangladesh needs $3 billion a year to implement its adaption plans.

Image credits and information i
Christian Aid’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Nuzhat Jabin, being interviewed for Rising Tides which recently aired on RTE.  Credit: Christian Aid
Woman speaking to camera crew

To watch episode two of Rising Tides: Ireland’s Future in a Warmer World, produced by Earth Horizon Productions, and which features Nuzhat and Masuma, visit the link below:

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