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The warnings about our future climate are stark – meet the people who are already living it

Written by on 08/08/2021

As you read today’s IPCC report, remember this: for many millions of people, this report is more than just stark warnings about the future, it’s a reality they are already facing. 

For the past few months, as part of a Sky News team, I’ve been working in Bangladesh.

Our brief was simple: to document how climate change was affecting people, not in 20, 30 years, but right now.

:: ‘Unequivocal’ human influence on global warming revealed in landmark UN report – including changes that can never be reversed

Kalabogi in Bangladesh
Image: Two-thirds of Bangladesh is less than five metres above sea level. Pic: EJF

What we witnessed sounds almost hyperbolic when you write it down. But in Bangladesh, climate change isn’t a hypothetical “when”, it’s a factual “now”.

Bangladesh is geographically vulnerable to flooding. It’s low-lying with three major rivers running through it. It has a long and wet monsoon season and is hit by tropical cyclones, generated in the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal.

So, take all those factors and add to it the effects of anthropogenic climate change: land and ocean warming, sea level rise, extreme heat and rain and unpredictable, more intense tropical cyclones.

More on Bangladesh

The result is a perfect storm that has already displaced millions from their coastal homes, leading them to a city that is now crumbling under the weight of so many new arrivals.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, we met Nurjahan Begum. She, her husband and two sons, aged 16 and 21, live in a small, tin-clad shack in one of the city’s many slums areas.

Conditions here are dark, dirty and dangerous with shacks crammed close together and whole families squeezed into homes no larger than a garden shed.

Kalabogi in Bangladesh
Image: Almost 30% of the Bangladesh population lives on the coast, where the primary driver of displacement is tidal flooding caused by sea level rise. Pic: EJF

Nurjahan’s home, like most in this slum, has no windows. There is little fresh air and, at 11am, when we meet, the temperature inside is over 30C (86F). We are pouring with sweat.

The doorstep stoves, heated by firewood, don’t help. The smoke from them mixes with the smell from the open drains. When it rains, and it often does, the drains flood, bringing filthy water inside.

Understandably, Nurjahan told us she hates living here but it’s all they can afford.

Her home, in a village on Bangladesh’s southern coast, flooded last year after an intense cyclone and tidal surge.

Nurjahan Begum said she had been used to flooding, but 'last year was too much'
Image: Nurjahan Begum said she had been used to flooding, but ‘last year was too much’

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“My family had always lived there,” she said, “we’re used to flooding – we get the monsoon rain every year – but last year was too much.”

“We’d planted watermelon, lentils and chilli but the flood washed everything away.”

Nurjahan told us the family had borrowed money to buy the seeds for that year’s crop.

Not only was their farm flooded but the tidal surge, exacerbated by rising sea levels, deluged their fields in salt water. Nothing will now grow there.

The family lost their income, their land and were thrown into debt. Nurjahan now gets frequent threatening calls from debt collectors who she simply cannot repay.

“It all knocked us back, so we had to move to Dhaka,” she said, “to find work.”

Then, she broke down, and started to cry, telling us: “I am so alone here. This small family is all I have. There is no home left for us to return to.”

Her story is heart-breaking – yet far from unique.

Bangladesh climate change
Image: Kalabogi, on Bangladesh’s south coast, is known as the ‘hanging village’ as homes teeter on bamboo stilts

During a trip to the southwest coast, we visited a village called Kalabogi where people were jacking their homes up with tall bamboo poles, to try and escape rising water levels.

One man we met there, Nur Mohammad, 35, had already moved five times.

Each time, he rebuilt his house further in-land but he’s now run out of space. He cannot keep running away from the water’s edge.

“I’ll have to leave if there is another flood,” he told us, “Seeing your home washed away…it’s just indescribable.”
“I’m a fisherman, and I’ve lived here my whole life but what future is there for my children here?”

Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Abdul Kalam Moment, told us the government estimates that 500,000 people are displaced by climate change every year in Bangladesh.

The majority head to Dhaka, a city that is now ranked one of the world’s least liveable places.

“For now, we can accommodate them in our slums,” he says, “but for how long? With sea level rise, we could sea millions more displaced.

“Where will there go? It’s a security risk for the whole world.”

Kalabogi in Bangladesh
Image: Homes on Bamboo stilts in Kalabogi, Bangladesh

There was a persistent thought in my mind, throughout all these interviews.

We know that, even if carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are quickly and dramatically cut, we will still see sea level and global temperature rise.

This is Bangladesh, today.

What on earth will it look like in future?

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show also highlights solutions to the crisis and how small changes can make a big difference.

 Sky News

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