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Climate Refugee / Abir Abdullah

Statement

On the Front Line of Climate Change

Nature has never made it easy to live in Bangladesh. The country is situated in the low-lying Ganges Delta, formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, and most of it is less than 10 meters above sea level. It is a country swamped by annual floods, with a coast battered by cyclones and tornadoes, yet an interior at times subject to drought. With nearly 150 million inhabitants, Bangladesh is also the most densely populated country on earth. As warnings about climate change grow in intensity, Bangladesh is forecast as the scene of increasing numbers of climate refugees.

In low-lying areas it is not unusual to be knee-deep in water in flood season – some local crops, such as rice, depend on rising waters. But floods are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Crops have been totally destroyed, livestock lost. Houses made from bamboo, straw and corrugated iron – made to be portable when the floods come – have been totally washed away. People have been forced to tear down their houses and move dozens of times as waters rise ever higher, and they return when waters recede to find their former land has gone completely. People are having to crowd onto less and less land, and disputes are developing.

Local sea levels in Bangladesh do appear to be rising, and summer temperatures climbing. People in some coastal areas have already switched from rice crops to farming prawns, as their paddies turned too salty. The weather seems to be growing more extreme and erratic. In 2004, tides in the estuaries stopped ebbing and flowing – the water simply stayed at high-tide level. In 2005, the country had no winter, with serious consequences for its potato crop. The direction of the monsoon has changed – it now advances west instead of north across the country. In the northwest, the monsoon failed entirely in 2006, causing severe drought, and 2007 saw a tornado occur months out of season.

As yet, there have not been sufficient in-depth studies to prove that these phenomena are a direct result of global warming, but they do indicate the effect that climate change would have on Bangladesh. A country where many people have never driven a car, run an air-conditioner, or done much at all to increase carbon emissions, could well end up fighting climate change on the front line.

Abir Abdullah

CV

Abir Abdullah is now working in the european pressphoto agency (epa) as Bangladesh correspondent.

Awards: Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Awards for ‘ Freedom Fighters: Veterans of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971’ works.

Exhibitions: Water and Life in Bangladesh at The Association of Photographers Gallery in London, First solo exhibition on War veterans of Bangladesh at Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts at Dhaka, Group exhibition on Pleasure of Life at Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, An exhibition of Photographs by the Mother Jones award recipients in The Friends of Photography at the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco.

Publications: Photographs published in Newyork Times, Asiaweek,Geo, Der Spiegel, TIME, BLINK- a contemporary photography book on 100 photographers, The Guardian, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, Chicago Tribune etc.