23 BD rivers die due to upstream water withdrawal

SAM Report,
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A total of 23 rivers in Bangladesh have died due to upstream withdrawal of waters. Water security has further been threatened by the impact of climate change. Ground water levels have fallen drastically and salinity has increased. Speakers at a seminar discussed the direct and indirect security fallout of climate change in Bangladesh, cautioning against dire consequences including escalating regional conflict.

The seminar, Security Implications on Climate Change: Focus on Bangladesh, was organized in the capital city on Monday, 23 January, by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS). The keynote address was presented by Professor Abu Zayed Mohammed, BIPSS research fellow. Moderated by BIPSS president Major General ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), the seminar was also addressed by Dr Peter Hefele, Director, Regional Project, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Foundation and Ina F Islam, Assistant Director, ICCAD.

Major General Muniruzzaman said that Bangladesh was a frontline state climate change. The security implications were staggering and the keynote research paper would present the various areas and impact of climate change in the country.

In his introductory remarks, Peter Hefele said that in the face of climate change, there was need for mitigation and adaptation. He said that up-to-date data regarding climate change would help unleash the creativity of the new generation so that they can find new solutions to the problem. Energy security and climate change were key issues and fundamental changes were needed in the way we consume energy. Energy transformation would require leaving fossil-based resources and moving towards a new future. He pointed out how Germany has phased out nuclear power. It was difficult, but the right way ahead. He also said that there was a dramatic increase in ideas and new concepts in Asia that could be shared with the rest of the world.

Presenting the keynote address, Professor Abu Zayed Mohammed said climate change was a threat multiplier. It had direct implications such as when the military could be prevented from operating, and indirect implications such as impact on water security, food security, livelihood security and so on. Bangladesh faces as existential threat due to climate change, he said.

He enunciated the major elements of climate change security as international relations, economic status, migration, human rights, development, trade, health and environment systems, rising temperatures and so on.

Bangladesh ranked number one on the Climate Change Vulnerability Index in 2014. And in 2015, environmental threats caused one of the biggest displacements in Bangladesh, a time when the shocking stories of ‘boat people’ came to light.

Prof Abu Zayed Abu highlighted the seriousness of food security in Bangladesh, saying that about 60 million people in the country were food insecure. This deepened the vulnerability of the poor population manifold.

Speaking on water security, he said that in addition to the drastic fall in ground water levels and the increase in salinity, 23 rivers in Bangladesh had died due to water withdrawal upstream.

The wider implications of climate change, as indicated in the keynote paper, were breakdown of social cohesion and internal instability.

Regional instability was another factor that could lead to conflicts. Human displacements would trigger waves of illegal emigration to neighboring states.

The recommendations to tackle the impact of climate change, as presented in the paper, were innovative research, effective mass awareness, transparency and accountability, regional and international cooperation and strengthening as well as implementing national energy legislations.

Discussing the keynote paper, Ina Islam said there was a pressing need to think out of the box. She said that people of Bangladesh in their day to day lives were constantly meeting the challenges of change and adaptation. There were a lot of lessons to be learnt out there. “Knowledge is power,” she said, “and we need to harness it.”

Ina Islam stressed the need to invest in education, to engage in all sections of the population. She called for cohesion between action partners, research partners and the government.

In his closing remarks, Peter Hefele said that the complexity of the challenges needed to be understood and a more comprehensive approach to climate change needed to be adopted globally.

After an interactive question and answer session, Major General Muniruzzaman concluded the seminar, saying that the final report on ‘Security Implications on Climate Change: Focus on Bangladesh’ would be published within the next few weeks.

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