A crisis far greater than Covid-19 looms over the horizon
After the devastating flood of 1988 which affected about 50% of Bangladesh and which triggered the infamous Flood Action Plan, the next major flood was in 1998 when about 70% of the country was affected.
To get an idea of the scale of the flooding in 1998, the Kemal Ataturk Road between Banani and Gulshan was impassable for some days and there was standing water in some of the Banani roads for up to six weeks. The road between Savar and Dhaka was impassable, and the only way in from that side was through the road via Ashulia which was kept open, day and night, by army engineers.
At about this time, various disaster preparedness experts in Bangladesh and elsewhere raised the concern of global warming with a focus on which countries around the world will be affected by sea level rise. In 1999, the British TV’s “Channel 4” made a series of four one-hour programs entitled The Drowning Earth, featuring different kinds of disasters in different continents.
When filming was going on in Chowhali Upazila of Sirajganj district in Bangladesh, the local farmers told of how they were observing that the river starts rising a few days earlier each year due to the Himalayan snow melting a bit earlier each year. However, at the time, nobody listened to them, as they were classified as “ignorant and uneducated.”
About 20 years ago, after the turn of the century, the terms global warming and climate change have been used at the same time, but now that the world has accepted that there is a serious problem, only the terminology of climate change has become the concern of most countries of the world. There were some countries that were prepared to deny the effects of climate change, but with the severe weather patterns that have been experienced in recent years -- out of control forest fires, severe rainfall, and flooding, as well as far more ferocious tornados and cyclones -- more countries are finally listening to the climate scientists.
When we were growing up in the UK in the 1950s, my sisters and I benefitted by having a mother who had studied geography at university in the 1930s. She made us think about and understand both “physical geography” and “human geography.” Also, even at nursery school, we used to be taken to a local park once a week for “nature study.”
We would see how the trees changed between the seasons, how large oak trees from small acorns grow. Also, we would see and learn how tadpoles grow into frogs and we would follow the life of a squirrel in the trees.
Nowadays, human geography is seen to have five distinct sections: Economic, social, cultural, political, and historical. Also, now it is very clear from numerous research studies that the activities of humans are responsible for the negative effects as far as the climate is concerned. It is interesting and educational that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have observed change in the environment, which could also affect the climate.
With lockdowns all over the world, less traffic on the roads and in the air, the air that we breathe has become noticeably cleaner. In places like Dhaka where the air quality is normally very bad and there is a lot of noise, we have seen birds return to some extent. In other countries, wild animals have felt more free as very few humans have been “invading” their spaces. We, children and adults both, should all learn from these experiences and it is so important that our children’s education should, as far as possible, be related to the world around them.
They should learn from an early age about cleanliness, tidiness, and respect for others as well as the animals and plants in their family and community environment.
Everyone in Bangladesh should regard climate change very seriously. It is very real. It is estimated that by 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change and up to 18 million people may have to move because of sea level rise alone. According to a recent report from Unicef, the future of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh is at risk from climate change. In fact, many experts and scientists predict that climate change could wreak far more havoc than Covid-19.
The world must wake up! NOW!
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh Citizenship. Julian has also been honoured with the British award of the OBE for ‘services to development in Bangladesh.’