New is­lands could solve Bangladesh’s land cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - International -

DHAKA: Dozens of new is­lands have emerged from the wa­ters around Bangladesh over the last decade, pro­vid­ing a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion to the ex­is­ten­tial threat that ris­ing sea lev­els pose to the low-ly­ing coastal na­tion. The gov­ern­ment said Mon­day that 29 is­lands with a com­bined area of 125,370 acres had emerged from the Bay of Ben­gal since 2007.

Ev­ery year Hi­malayan rivers carry an es­ti­mated one bil­lion tons of silts and de­posit them in the Bay of Ben­gal off the coast of Bangladesh, form­ing is­lands in the shal­low wa­ters. Many of these is­lands, known as chars in Bangladesh, are al­ready in­hab­ited and ex­perts said they could mit­i­gate the threat posed by global warm­ing. “Ev­ery year Bangladesh has new land emerg­ing and new land be­ing de­voured by rivers and sea,” said Maminul Haque Sarker, head of the Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­ment and Geo­graphic In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices. He said stud­ies by the Dhaka re­search cen­tre had shown a net gain of ter­ri­tory of around 12-14 square kilo­me­ters. Most of the new land is near the es­tu­ary of the Meghna river, which is the con­flu­ence of the main trib­u­taries of the two main Hi­malayan rivers of the Ganges and the Brahma­pu­tra. One of the is­lands has con­tro­ver­sially been ear­marked as a pos­si­ble tem­po­rary base for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya refugees from Myan­mar cur­rently liv­ing in squalid­mostly makeshift-camps in south­ern Bangladesh.

The United Na­tions says 615,000 refugees from the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity have crossed into Bangladesh from its Bud­dhist neigh­bor since late Au­gust. The in­flux has over­whelmed ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the densely pop­u­lated coun­try, and au­thor­i­ties have strug­gled to find al­ter­na­tive land to house them. A re­cent World Bank study pro­jected that 40 per­cent of pro­duc­tive land in south­ern Bangladesh would be sub­merged by the year 2080 due to a rise in sea lev­els.

A decade ago the in­flu­en­tial In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) said a one-me­tre (three-foot) rise in sea lev­els would flood 17 per cent of Bangladesh and cre­ate 20 mil­lion refugees by 2050. Lo­cal sci­en­tists, how­ever, crit­i­cized the study for fail­ing to take into ac­count the silt is­lands, which are highly fer­tile. Wa­ter ex­pert Zahirul Haque Khan said dams could be set up to trap the vast amounts of sed­i­ment that flows from Bangladesh’s rivers into the sea ev­ery year. — AFP

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