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5 Feb 07
Bangladesh Faces Bleak Future from Global Warming
Story by Anis Ahmed
DHAKA - Every year, St. Martin's island in Bangladesh gets a little smaller. The storms that batter its fragile shores are becoming increasingly severe and more and more coral is lost to the waves.
Local council chairman Moulvi Feroze Ahmed doesn't know much about global warming or scientists' dire predictions for the fate of low-lying Bangladesh. But he fears for the future and the livelihoods of thousands of people on Bangladesh's only coral island.
"No one has ever told my people what awaits them in 50 years or a century," Feroze said on Friday, hours before a UN climate panel released a report issuing the strongest warning yet that human activities are heating the planet. "But I have seen the island gradually reduced to a size of 8 sq-km (3 sq miles) now from 12 sq-km 20 years ago," he told Reuters from Saint Martin's in the Bay of Bengal off the country's southernmost tip of Teknaf.
"The corals are being eroded, land being squeezed. This is what we see ... and wonder why the Bay that gives us fish and a secure living is becoming cruel," Feroze, 55, said.
"Recently, various sea species including turtles and dolphins are dying along our shores. But we don't know why."
Bangladesh, with more than 140 million people, is one of the world's most densely populated nations.
It is also one of the most ill-prepared to face global warming and also likely to be among the nations worst affected, officials and experts said on Friday. Millions of people live along the largely flat delta bound by the Bay of Bengal to the south. As sea levels rise and storms increase in number and severity, vast areas of land will be swallowed by the sea, experts say.
"Millions of Bangladeshis will lose their land and homes, adding to the South Asian country's plight of poverty and overcrowding," said Ainun Nishat, Bangladesh country representative of the World Conservation Union.
More than 11 percent of Bangladesh's land area would be lost if sea levels rose by 1 metre over the next 50 or 100 years, he said. "The impacts on Bangladesh would include increased levels of drought, flooding and storms, especially in coastal belts, salinity and loss of land," he added.
In Barisal, on Bangladesh's southwest coast, fishermen said the sea had become more erratic in recent years.
"We had at least 10 storms in the Bay in the past year (2006), with more ferocity and loss of lives," said Moslem Miah, 62. "I have been fishing since my boyhood. Our main catch has been the Hilsha fish. But no longer they fill our nets like before. Where have they gone?"
Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, chairman of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh, said salt water would also leach into large areas along mainland Bangladesh, damaging agriculture.
"The Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, will also be affected in case of sea level rise, sending in more saline water," he told Reuters.
"The Bangladesh government has prepared a national plan of action to face the impact of climate change but it has yet to receive any global financial support," Chowdhury added.
Nishat said the country was almost certainly being affected by climate change. "But Bangladesh is ill prepared to face the threats," he said.
(Additional reporting by Masud Karim, Nurul Islam in Cox's Bazar and Aroop Talukder in Barisal)
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