Climatic paradox of Bangladesh: climate change versus adaptation

Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world. According to the Climate Risk Index (2018), Bangladesh is in sixth position having experienced 187 climate-related extreme weather events (hereafter “EWEs”) between 1997 and 2016.

From 1995 to 2014, there were at least 22,500 deaths and around 130 million were affected by disasters in Bangladesh, according to the report published by CRED in 2017. These EWEs such as flooding, cyclones, heavy rainfall, riverbank erosion, and drought are occurring frequently. There are 12 coastal districts out of 19 which are directly exposed to the sea (Bay of Bengal) and prone to flooding. Moreover, there are approximately 20 districts out of 64, which are exposed to riverbank erosion.

The geographic form of Bangladesh makes it vulnerable to natural hazards. The increasing adverse impacts of natural disasters in Bangladesh have created tremendous loss and damage to life and assets of people living in vulnerable areas.

It is noteworthy to observe that the number of EWEs experienced by Bangladesh is declining sharply from 1990 to 2017 (see Figure 1). For example, in the 1990-2008 period, Bangladesh experienced 244 EWEs. Strikingly, it dropped to 190 during the period of 1998 to 2017.

Similarly, the number of deaths from the EWEs showed a dramatic decline from 1990 to 2017. The number of deaths reported was higher during the 1990s. The higher reported deaths could be attributed to the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, which caused many deaths. However, the number of deaths dropped drastically from the period of 1992-2011. From this period, this number shows a gradual decline, which indicates, best possible, the better adaptive capacities of Bangladesh.

On top of that, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change and resulted in disasters due to its geographical form. Given with the anticipated risks and vulnerabilities from climate change and associated disasters, the adaptive capacities of Bangladesh will be questionable in the coming decades.

It should be noted that Bangladesh has received mass attention during COP21 due to the adaptation systems and has recognized as ‘the adaptation capital of the world’. Moreover, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has notched the global award ‘Champion of the Earth’ in 2015 due to the adaptive capacity of Bangladesh to cope with the disastrous circumstances. Thus, it remarks about the climatic paradox of Bangladesh suffering from more vulnerability of climate change, resulted EWEs, and correspondingly taking tremendous adaptation measurement.

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Khandaker Jafor Ahmed is a Bangladeshi doctoral student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Population at the University of Adelaide (UoA), Australia. Jafor's research interest falls within the broader field of population and environment, with a special focus on human fertility. Given the academic qualification (Bachelor and Master's degree in Sociology) and research experience (as a Research Associate in the Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research at BRAC University, Bangladesh), his research seeks to explain the social impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
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