Densely populated, low-lying Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to disasters and climate change. Every year, an estimated 3.5 million people in Bangladesh are at risk of river flooding due to rising sea levels and increasingly intense monsoons. The Global Climate Risk Index 2021 ranks Bangladesh as the seventh extreme disaster risk-prone country in the world.
While the nation stands thousands of miles away from the Arctic, the cascading effects of the melting polar ice caps deeply impact this nation’s climatic and socioeconomic aspirations. Indeed, the vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate risks is amplified by this distant Arctic thaw, bringing into focus the delicate balance between its pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the multifaceted impacts of global warming.
The Long Reach of the Arctic: Its Impact on Bangladesh
The Arctic is experiencing unprecedented warming, losing its sea ice and snow cover at an alarming rate. While the immediate repercussions are visible in the polar regions, this Arctic change ripples across the globe, altering weather patterns, raising sea levels, and intensifying climatic extremes.
For Bangladesh, a deltaic nation with vast stretches of land barely above sea level, the melting Greenland Ice Sheet translates to sea level rise, heightening risks of coastal inundation, salinity intrusion, and land loss. This has profound implications, from displacing millions to threatening food and water security. Furthermore, as the Arctic’s warming disrupts the monsoon systems, Bangladesh grapples with erratic rainfall patterns, leading to extended droughts and devastating floods.
Arctic Change, Bangladesh’s SDG Journey, and its Socioeconomic Implications
While the SDGs serve as a beacon for Bangladesh’s developmental aspirations, they are deeply intertwined with the nation’s socioeconomic fabric. Infrastructure, forming the backbone of developmental ambitions, faces vulnerabilities due to climate-induced damages, potentially isolating communities and hindering economic progress. Bangladesh’s determined march towards the SDGs is rendered more intricate by the indirect yet profound influences of Arctic warming, including the accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which significantly contributes to rising sea levels, posing an even greater challenge to the nation’s development:
Infrastructure: Critical infrastructures, including roads, schools, and health facilities, are threatened by the rising waters and intensified weather extremes. Disruptions here can impede essential services, stalling commerce and daily life, and threatening the nation’s march towards SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure).
Nearly 90% of Bangladesh’s electricity grid is at risk from strong cyclonic winds exceeding 30 meters per second. Looking ahead to 2050, over 65% of electricity substations and 67% of power plants could face potential climate-related hazards.
Due to climate change, the road and rail network in Bangladesh will face increased challenges. These may include more frequent flooding and erosion, greater wear and tear from extreme weather, increased obstructions from debris after cyclones and storm surges and salinity impacts in coastal areas.
Standard of Living: Agriculture is a vital lifeline for a substantial portion of Bangladesh’s population, but it faces increasing threats from unpredictable weather and rising salinity levels. In Bangladesh, a significant 70% of the land is allocated to agriculture, providing employment for 48% of the population.
Climate-related events not only impact food security but they also place significant strain on livelihoods, casting doubts on the nation’s progress toward achieving SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger).
Current estimates indicate that the agricultural sector in Bangladesh may incur an annual loss of approximately USD7.7 billion due to climate change. Within two decades, the country’s average annual rice production could decline by 33%.
Agriculture’s central role in Bangladesh’s economy is underscored as it faces challenges stemming from erratic monsoons, extreme weather events and salinity intrusion, affecting both food security and countless livelihoods.
Human Capital: In Bangladesh, repeated climatic shocks are hindering access to education, health, and opportunities, and posing significant barriers to SDGs related to health, education, and well-being. The nation’s human capital, its most valuable asset, confronts threats from climate change that, when amplified by Arctic warming, can potentially erode its developmental milestones.
A growing number of Bangladeshi children have had to permanently end their education when they migrate to urban slums in the wake of climate disasters. Around 1.7 million children in Bangladesh are labourers, and one in four of them are 11 years old or younger, according to UNICEF.
Bangladesh’s pursuit of the SDGs is deeply intertwined with the distant echoes of the Arctic’s warming. The cascading effects of this distant change illuminate the intricate web of global interdependencies. For Bangladesh, acknowledging this global interplay and adapting strategies accordingly is crucial. In the face of these daunting challenges, Bangladesh’s resilient spirit and informed action can still pave the way for a harmonious balance between sustainable growth and the ever-shifting climate landscape.
For more information about how the Arctic affects Asia please click HERE.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.