Dozens of new is­lands ma­te­ri­alise to solve land cri­sis

The New Age (Free State) - - INSIDE -

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 507m² had emerged from the Bay of Ben­gal since 2007. Ev­ery year Hi­malayan rivers carry an es­ti­mated bil­lion tons of silts and de­posit them in the bay 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,” Maminul Haque Sarker, head of the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment and Geo­graphic In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices.

He said stud­ies by the Dhaka re­search cen­tre had shown a net gain of ter­ri­tory of around 12-14km².

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 presently liv­ing in squalid – mostly makeshift – camps in south­ern Bangladesh.

The UN 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 au­thor­i­ties have strug­gled to find al­ter­na­tive land to house them.

A re­cent World Bank study pro­jected that 40% of pro­duc­tive land in south­ern Bangladesh would be sub­merged by the year 2080 due to a rise in sea lev­els. A decade ago the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change said a one me­tre rise in sea lev­els would flood 17% 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 said dams could be set up to trap the vast amounts of sed­i­ment that flows from Bangladesh’s rivers into the sea ev­ery year.

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