The Link Between Climate Change and Poverty in Bangladesh

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SEATTLE, Washington — Bangladesh is a South Asian country known for its many forests and waterways. Unfortunately, it is also known for its frequent natural disasters. Climate change has additionally played a crucial role in making the frequency and severity of these disasters even worse. More than 12 million people still live in poverty in the coastal regions of Bangladesh – the regions mainly affected by disasters like cyclones. Many already impoverished people then must cope with the destruction that a severe weather event like that brings. This subsequently helps the poverty cycle stay in effect, elucidating a clear link between climate change and poverty in Bangladesh.

Effects of Climate Change

It is a long-known fact that impoverished people suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of climate change. In the case of Bangladesh, many slums are located in low-lying urban areas that are at high risk of flooding. This causes the slums’ residents to be more vulnerable to natural hazards, not even considering the effects of climate change.

Increased river and soil salinity also severely impacts impoverished households. A United Nations report estimates that some 70% of farmers in coastal areas have partially or fully ceased farming due to high levels of salinity. River salinity effectively increases health risks and causes a worsened scarcity of drinking water and water for irrigation. It also leads to a reduction in fish species—a vital source of protein for many households.

In a Policy Research Talk, World Bank Research Director Asli Demirguc-Kunt explains how climate change has led to crop destruction, environmental disasters and has facilitated the more rapid spread of disease. Susmita Dasgupta, the lead Environmental Economist at the Policy Research Talk, adds how climate change will be the culprit of pushing people into poverty with no way out. She emphasizes that organizations and the government need to coordinate efforts to address climate change sooner rather than later. Otherwise, poverty reduction in a sustainable manner may be unattainable in the near future.

Due to rising sea levels, land surface exposure to high levels of “cyclonic inundation” will increase by more than 50%, according to the World Bank. With severe cyclones striking on average every three years in Bangladesh, natural disasters frequently destroy thousands of homes. Climate change is making their occurrences even more frequent.

Cyclone Amphan

On May 21, Cyclone Amphan killed at least 88 people in Bangladesh and left millions without power. The outage affected an estimated 10 million people, including 500,000 people who lost their homes. The nonprofit organization Association for India’s Development established a Cyclone Amphan Relief Fund to provide support to survivors of the cyclone and sustain the affected communities as they rebuild their lives.

Partnership Between the World Bank and the Government of Bangladesh

The World Bank has been working closely with the Government of Bangladesh and other development partners on critical measures that will allow poor households in coastal regions of Bangladesh to better adapt to the impacts of climate change. These measures include strengthening coastal embankments, construction of emergency shelters and improving early warning evacuation systems.

While Bangladesh has made progress through poverty reduction initiatives, various organizations and the government must prioritize adaptation to and preparation for climate change’s effects to protect underprivileged citizens from becoming even poorer. Further awareness also needs to be raised surrounding the link between climate change and poverty in Bangladesh.

Erica Fealtman
Photo: Flickr

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