New is­lands spell hope for Bangladesh

Land formed by silt could counter threat of ris­ing sea lev­els to low-ly­ing na­tion: Ex­perts

The Straits Times - - ASIA -

DHAKA Dozens of new is­lands have emerged from the wa­ters around Bangladesh over the past decade, pro­vid­ing a pos­si­ble solution to the ex­is­ten­tial threat that ris­ing sea lev­els pose to the low-ly­ing coastal na­tion.

The gov­ern­ment said on Mon­day that 29 is­lands with a com­bined area of 507 sq km have emerged from the Bay of Bengal since 2007. In con­trast, Sin­ga­pore’s land size is 720 sq km.

Ev­ery year, Hi­malayan rivers carry an es­ti­mated one bil­lion tonnes of silt and de­posit it 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 told Agence France-Presse 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 Dr Maminul Haque Sarker, head of the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment and Ge­o­graphic In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices.

He added that stud­ies by the Dhaka re­search cen­tre have shown a net gain of ter­ri­tory of around 12-14 sq km.

Most of the new land is lo­cated 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 also con­tro­ver­sially been ear­marked as a pos­si­ble tem­po­rary base for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya refugees from Myan­mar who are cur­rently liv­ing in squalid – and mostly makeshift – camps in south­ern Bangladesh.

The United Na­tions says 615,000 refugees from the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity have crossed into Bangladesh from its Bud­dhist neigh­bour since late Au­gust.

The in­flux has over­whelmed ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the densely pop­u­lated coun­try, and the au­thor­i­ties have strug­gled to find al­ter­na­tive land to house them.

A re­cent World Bank study pro­jected that 40 per cent 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 said a 1m rise in sea lev­els would flood 17 per cent of Bangladesh and cre­ate 20 mil­lion refugees by 2050.

Lo­cal sci­en­tists, how­ever, crit­i­cised the study for fail­ing to take into ac­count the silt is­lands, which are highly fer­tile.

Wa­ter ex­pert Zahirul Haque Khan told AFP that dams could be set up to trap the vast amounts of sed­i­ment that flow from Bangladesh’s rivers into the sea ev­ery year.

“Bangladesh can gain hun­dreds of square kilo­me­tres of new land by trap­ping silt through cross dams and en­gi­neer­ing in­ter­ven­tions,” said Mr Khan, di­rec­tor of In­sti­tute of Wa­ter Mod­el­ling in Dhaka.

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