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12/03/2007

Bangladesh: At the mercy of climate change

BANGLADESH - thousands of fishermen died off Bangladesh this past summer. The Bay of Bengal was UNUSUALLY ROUGH. Usually, the authorities only issue a storm warning to fishermen to stay at home once or twice a year. Last year, four warnings were issued in the space of two months. Every warning meant the fishermen lost valuable days at sea. When the last warning came, they could not afford to stay ashore and went to sea anyway. Officially 1,700 drowned, but many Bangladeshis believe the real number may be closer to 10,000. "Was it climate change? We don't know. Was it UNUSUAL? Yes."

Also, there were the STRANGE events of 2004, when the tides in the estuaries of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers stopped ebbing and flowing. The water level just stayed at high tide. The same year, the capital, Dhaka, was hit by floods so severe the ground floors of most buildings were under water, and a catfish was caught in one of the government buildings. And in 2005, the country had no winter at all. Bangladesh, like much of northern India, gets quite cold in winter. Except that it didn't last year. Winter never came - with serious effects on the year's potato crop. This year, too, it has not been as cold as usual. "The direction of the monsoon has changed in the last few years. The depression that brings the rain used to advance north across Bangladesh. Now it is heading west." That could have devastating implications in the event of a tropical cyclone as the change in direction of the monsoon may mean any cyclone spends more time gathering pace over the Bay of Bengal. The rainfall is increasingly erratic. "People always come to Bangladesh to talk about rising sea levels. Have you considered that London is the same height above sea level as most of Bangladesh? You have the Thames barrier, and we have our dykes. By the time Bangladesh is flooded, you will have lost London."
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