NOTED author Robert Kaplan, in an article titled The Atlantic, said that chaos would emerge as the main threat to global security in future decades. Population growth and resource depletion would prompt mass migrations and incite group conflicts in the Indian sub-continent.
The author is not of Indian origin, but his prophecy about incoming disasters in the Indian sub-continent leads us to believe that bizarre threat looms large on the environmental horizon in Bangladesh. Things are pretty much in a mess here.
Environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources are often witnessed in Bangladesh due to poverty, over-population and lack of awareness on the subject. It is manifested by deforestation, destruction of wetlands, depletion of soil nutrients, etc. Natural calamities like floods, cyclones and tidal-bores also result in severe socio-economic and environmental damage.
Indeed, Bangladesh is one of the few countries that face extreme hazards due to environmental degradation and resource depletion. The degradation of the environment has been highlighted in various fora because of its universal potential for chaos and disorder. It is time that developing world especially the South Asian countries where destruction of their environment is fast leading to huge tracts of land becoming unproductive, took serious note of this vitally important issue. Lack of attention to galloping pollution is undermining the vitals of the citizens and the well-being of the future generations.
Environmental problems faced by Bangladesh are far too many though largely caused by factors, which are teleological because of its geographical position. These include deforestation of the Himalayas, rise in the sea level due to global warming, sharing river waters with India, floods, tornadoes, droughts, water and soil quality and waste dumping.
Seas and rivers have too often been used as free waste repositories, and refuse from firms; farms and houses have often been dumped in fresh and salt waters. The disposal of wastes has led to serious problems especially in Bangladesh. This waste disposal has led to serious pollution. The Bay of Bengal has been used as a convenient dumping ground for industrial and toxic wastes. An American ship named "Felishia" entered the waters of the Bay of Bengal to dump some hazardous toxic wastes. Media awareness of the issue prevented the ship from dumping its cargo.
Bangladesh is, like any South Asian country, cursed with monsoon floods and tornadoes. Being close to the sea, it bears the brunt directly. Incalculable damage is done to agriculture caused by annual recurrence of floods. In 1988, monsoon floods in Bangladesh killed several thousand people, levelled two million homes, devastated 4.0 million acres of cropland and cost the impoverished nation US $ 1.5 billion. Nature, it seems, had declared war on Bangladesh. There have been at least 14 devastating floods in the last 40 years. Droughts too have taken their toll. The longest was in 1989, which caused a reported loss of 2.5 million people in terms of loss of lives and spiralling prices.
Global warning too would affect Bangladesh tremendously. A recent survey done by the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) found that the country was witnessing rise in sea level. Over 11 per cent of the population will be displaced by the effect on the Bangladesh's coasts and at least 17.5 per cent of the total land area will be totally inundated.
There will be a 13 per cent fall in the gross domestic product(GDP) owing to losses in agriculture and hence a further fall in the per capita income.
The global warming will affect the major port of Mongla, some 85 cities and towns, more than 800 kilometres (kms) of roads and 4,200 kms of coastal embankment.
It is destined to lead to the extinction of the Sunderbans, one of the world's largest mangrove forests, covering 5,770 square kms. To abate the crisis, Bangladesh would need to embank 715 kms of coastal island perimeters, 370 kms of coastline and 7600 kms of riverbanks. This would cost $10 billion, but where from the money will come?
The sharing of river waters of the Ganges has always been a thorny issue in relations between Indian and Bangladesh since the beginning of the construction of the Farakka Barrage in 1951. Bangladesh felt that India was wilfully diverting waters and creating ecological imbalance. An agreement was, however, reached between the two neighbouring countries on December 12, 1996 over the sharing of the Ganges waters that pacified the grievances of Bangladesh people. It was hailed as a landmark treaty in resolving the dispute peacefully.
The ecological hazards of pollution and resource depletion pose a potentially catastrophic threat to Bangladesh. The present Bangladesh government should take the environmental threats seriously, and create public awareness and action-oriented programmes. In fact, 'green' ideas should be taken to the polls and efforts should be made to create a 'green' political ideology.
What is very badly needed at the moment is a more thorough environment policy and more significant would be its execution in the backdrop of pollution threats from various sources getting worse and worse. A great deal of legislation would be required to support such a policy and institutional capacities would also have to be put in place to enforce it.
The greenhouse effect resulting in sea level rise could obliterate the existence of Bangladesh in the physical sense. Many countries are likely to be affected from such developments but prophecies are that Bangladesh could be one of the worst affected. Thus, it is in the core interest of this country that it should duly demand of the international community to take measures to limit greenhouse gas emission that causes global warming, and help reverse the process.