National Geographic : 2011 May
• at scenario is based on two converging pro- jections: population growth that, despite a sharp decline in fertility, will continue to produce mil- lions more Bangladeshis in the coming decades, and a possible multifoot rise in sea level by 2100 as a result of climate change. Such a scenario could mean that 10 to 30 million people along the southern coast would be displaced, forc- ing Bangladeshis to crowd even closer together or else ee the country as climate refugees---a group predicted to swell to some 250 million worldwide by the middle of the century, many from poor, low-lying countries. "Globally, we're talking about the largest mass migration in human history," says Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman, a charismatic retired army of- cer who presides over the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies in Dhaka. "By 2050 millions of displaced people will overwhelm not just our limited land and resources but our government, our institutions, and our borders." Muniruzzaman cites a recent war game run by the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., which forecast the geopolitical chaos that such a mass migration of Bangladeshis might cause in South Asia. In that exercise millions of refugees ed to neighboring India, leading to disease, religious con ict, chronic shortages of food and fresh water, and heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed adversaries India and Pakistan. Such a catastrophe, even imaginary, ts right in with Bangladesh's crisis-driven story line, which, since the country's independence in 1971, has included war, famine, disease, killer cyclones, massive oods, military coups, politi- cal assassinations, and pitiable rates of poverty and deprivation---a list of woes that inspired some to label it an international basket case. Yet if despair is in order, plenty of people in Bangladesh didn't read the script. In fact, many here are pitching another ending altogether, one in which the hardships of their past give rise to a powerful hope. For all its troubles, Bangladesh is a place where adapting to a changing climate actually seems possible, and where every low-tech ad- aptation imaginable is now being tried. Sup- ported by governments of the industrialized countries---whose greenhouse emissions are largely responsible for the climate change that is causing seas to rise---and implemented by a long list of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), these innovations are gaining credence, thanks to the one commod- ity that Bangladesh has in profusion: human resilience. Before this century is over, the world, rather than pitying Bangladesh, may wind up learning from her example. MORE THAN A THIRD OF THE WORLD'S PEOPLE live within 62 miles of a shoreline. Over the com- ing decades, as sea levels rise, climate change experts predict that many of the world's largest cities, including Miami and New York, will be increasingly vulnerable to coastal ooding. A recent study of 136 port cities found that those with the largest threatened populations will be in developing countries, especially those in Asia. Worldwide, the two cities that will have the greatest proportional increase in people exposed to climate extremes by 2070 are both in Bangla- desh: Dhaka and Chittagong, with Khulna close behind. ough some parts of the delta region may keep pace with rising sea levels, thanks to river sediment that builds up coastal land, other areas will likely be submerged. But Bangladeshis don't have to wait decades for a preview of a future transformed by rising seas. From their vantage point on the Bay of Bengal, they are already facing what it's like to live in an overpopulated and climate-changed world. ey've watched sea levels rise, salinity infect their coastal aquifers, river ooding become more destructive, and cyclones batter their coast with increasing intensity---all changes associated with disruptions in the global climate. On May 25, 2009, the people of Munshiganj, a village of 35,000 on the southwest coast, got a Don Belt previously reported on the Indian subcontinent in September 2007 (Pakistan) and October 2008 (India). Jonas Bendiksen's last feature was on the melting Himalayan glaciers (April 2010).