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Bangladesh faces a multifaceted threat: sea levels are rising faster than the global average

DHAKA: Sea levels in Bangladesh are rising faster than the global average, a new study shows, even as authorities struggle to combat complex threats, including the destruction of 17 percent of the country’s land area over the next two decades.

Due to its low-lying location in the Bengal Delta, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to flooding. However, climate change has exacerbated the risk of flooding as glaciers melt and extreme weather events become more frequent.

According to a study released last month by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, average sea levels in Bangladesh are rising by 3.8 to 5.8 millimeters per year, above the global trend of 3.7 millimeters per year.

“The impacts of sea level rise are indeed enormous,” said Dr. AKM Saiful Islam, the study’s lead researcher.

“Sea levels will rise by one meter in the next 100 years. This is one of the worrying results of our research. We fear that this sea level rise will accelerate in the coming years due to thermal expansion.”

In the 2021 World Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh ranked seventh among countries most at risk from climate change. Scientists predict that a one-meter sea level rise would flood nearly a fifth of the country’s agricultural and habitable land and displace about 20 million people.

“There is a fear that 17 percent of our land will be flooded. This will also lead to increasing salinization of both arable land and groundwater. Ultimately, this will threaten our food security as 6 to 9 percent of our rice cultivation will decline,” Mohammed Harun Or Rashid, deputy director of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, told Arab News.

“The impacts of sea level rise are multifaceted. It will reduce our crop yields in a number of ways, such as increased salinization, flooding of cropland, etc. An integrated approach is needed to deal with the situation.”

About 50 percent of Bangladesh’s population is employed in agriculture, and over 70 percent of the country’s land area is used for arable farming. The sector accounts for one fifth of the South Asian country’s economy.

In addition, according to a 2019 report by the International Monetary Fund, rising sea levels and coastal erosion could cause Bangladesh to lose 30 percent of its food production in 20 years.

The Bangladesh government plans to use the latest report on sea level rise as a basis for future action.

“The Bangladesh government has taken various protective measures such as building dams… But before that, we did not have a specific study on the height of the dams needed… to be safe for the next 100 years,” Rashid said. “Now that we have a scientific study, such decisions can be made more precisely.”

Scientists in Bangladesh are also experimenting with increasing the production of more salt-tolerant rice varieties, he added.

“Our scientists have already developed some salt-tolerant rice varieties. But with the results of our latest research, scientists can now go further and determine how much (of such varieties) will be needed.”

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