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February 02, 2007

Bangladesh is Sinking!

Oh dear, oh dear:

When Iman Ali Gain first heard about climate change a couple of years ago, he thought that it was a joke.

How could the habits of people in the West affect him, a 65-year-old shrimp farmer in southwestern Bangladesh?

He still has no concept of the science behind global warming, which will be outlined in a United Nations report today. But he does not need the 2,500 experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to prove that his world is under threat. Climate change here is a day-to-day reality that scientists say could make 17 million Bangladeshis homeless by 2030.

Over three decades Mr Gain has seen the waters around his mud house in the coastal region of Munshiganj, where silt-laden rivers meet the sea, rise 3m (10ft). He has been battered by increasingly violent floods, tornadoes and cyclones, and tasted the salt seeping relentlessly into his drinking water.

The best estimate so far is that sea levels have been rising by 2mm to 3 mm a year in recent decades. So, at maximum, with a little rounding, Mr. Gain can blame 10 cm of the rise on us energy guzzling westerners. The other 2 metres and 90 centimetres must be to do with something else: like the shifting of sandbanks perhaps in an area where "silt-laden rivers meet the sea".

Sloppy reporting? Or deliberate misrepresentation? You decide.

February 2, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink


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But the article doesn't claim that all of the sea level rise in Bangladesh can be blamed on global warming. It does say that global warming will cause further sea level increase, which it will, and that this will be disastrous for people like the man in question, which they will. But you ignore the human consequences in favour of attacking another straw man version of the climate change argument.

Posted by: Jim | Feb 2, 2007 11:21:08 AM

The BBC 10 o'clock news was peddling the same half-truths. They were deliberately trying to mislead its audience.
In the future we may see increased sea levels due to man-made global warming but current sea levels rises are natural.
In fact the rate of increase had SLOWED over the last 50 years.

Posted by: Kit | Feb 2, 2007 12:49:11 PM

This is a lovely quote:

"People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that [global warming] is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago", Jeremy Paxman, Media Guardian, Jan 31st, 2007.

h.t. Biased BBC

Posted by: Kit | Feb 2, 2007 1:02:13 PM

You're right about the increase in sea level not being very significant, but it's not really the point here. Bangladesh's rivers are fed by melting ice and snow from the himalayas, and in recent decades hotter summers have led to vastly increased volumes of seasonal floodwater - which don't make that much of a difference to the level of the world's oceans, but do make quite an important difference if you happen to live on an easily eroded mud-bank in their path.

Anyway, yes it is sloppy reporting by the BBC - it would be nice if they'd put more effort into explaining the relevant facts and less into trying to humanise the story with superficial 'colour'

Posted by: Ed | Feb 2, 2007 2:18:00 PM

Ed, Have you got any references for the hotter summers and increased volumes of seasonal flood water. I've had no luck finding any.

Posted by: Kit | Feb 2, 2007 4:28:10 PM

Kit, I've had another look into it, and it seems as though I might be talking out of my arse, at least as far as the impact on Bangladesh goes. It is true that summer temperatures in the himalayas are rising dramatically and causing larger floods in the local area - see this article from national geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/03/0310_060310_glaciers_2.html

I lived for a while in a village in north-central Nepal, and the effects there were definitely notable. However, it looks like this isn't necessarily related to the floods in Bangladesh - see this article (and scroll down to about halfway - the meghalaya / himalaya bit)


Whatever, some people on the subcontinet are definitely finding their lives take a change to the worse due to climate change. Like Paxman, I'd have to leave it to people who know more than I do to tell me if it's our fault or not.

Posted by: Ed | Feb 2, 2007 6:29:44 PM

You constantly hint at some conspiracy. When you say 'deliberate misrepresentation' who is behind this invented problem of global warming, or ar you just bonkers?

Posted by: Gus Abraham | Feb 2, 2007 8:44:56 PM

I may too be talking out of my ass but I seem to remember from a Geography lecture in my university days that much of the increase in seasonal flooding in Bangladesh is the fault of vast deforestation upriver in the mountains.

Without tree roots to hold the ground in place it quickly slides downhill at an alarming rate with each heavy rainfall, eventually landing in the coastal deltas where it silts up the riverbed. As soon as you get a little more than average rainfall down in the delta the rivers breach and all those farmers who are forced to live a couple of inches above sea level end up with wet feet and the vision of their rickety houses bobbing on the waves.

Now, not wishing to sound insensitive and ignore the fact that the majority of the people farming the delta aren't exactly footloose and fancy free, but can we really be surprised when people who live on a vast flood plain occasionally experience flooding? Perhaps there are more important factors at work than global warming - immense overpopulation, for instance.

Posted by: sortapundit | Feb 2, 2007 8:46:16 PM

I like the way that Times readers have to be told that 3m is (roughly) 10 feet.

Posted by: Steve | Feb 2, 2007 10:31:34 PM


You are right. This has been being reported for many years now. Increased flooding in Bangladesh is due to deforestation and soil loss up river and has nothing whatsoever to do with global climate change.

Soil loss results in the land being able to retain less water, so more runs off immediately, and the lost soil also silts up the river channels so the river is shallower, both effects making flooding worse.

Posted by: Chris Harper | Feb 3, 2007 7:16:18 AM

Thanks Ed for the links.
In recent decades Bangladesh has made incredible progress in health, environment, and the economy. I would hate this to be derailed to please the misguided environmental lobby in the West.

Posted by: Kit | Feb 3, 2007 12:21:44 PM

The article doesn't just say that there has been a 10ft rise compared to average land height but to the presumably fixed location of his house.

That cannot possibly be true without a general 10ft rise worldwide which obviously hasn't happened.

I would go for "deliberate" but be harsher than "misrepresentation".

Posted by: Neil Craig | Feb 3, 2007 4:02:29 PM

The original article also says now the "salt is seeping relentlessly into his water". If that has only just started he is beside an estuary where the river is falling comparative to the sea. Again only possible with a massive rise in global sea level or the Ganges drying up.

Posted by: Neil Craig | Feb 3, 2007 4:08:55 PM