13 March 2009

sinking against rising tides

Global warming has brought about yet another social problem - climate change refugees. To some people the reality of living with the impacts of climate change has never been so stark. As predicted, the effects of global warming are most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it and can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves. The disappearance of Lohachara beneath the waters of the Bay of Bengal created the world’s first environmental refugees. There are similar islands facing the same fate amid the vastness of the low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet.

A third of the Sundarbans lies in India and two-thirds in Bangladesh. It is here that the waters of two of Asia’s biggest rivers, the Ganges and Brahmaputra, form the world’s largest delta. Across the India portion of the delta, homes have been swept away, fields and fruit trees ravaged by worsening monsoon rains, livelihoods sunk beneath the waves.

Lohachara Island was the world’s first populated island to be lost to climate change and its disappearance left more than 7,000 people homeless. Neighbouring Ghorama has lost a third of its land mass in the last five years. To the north, Sagar, the largest of India’s Sundarbans islands, already houses 20,000 refugees from the tides. The influx of displaced people is swamping the original inhabitants of Sagar, putting pressure on the island’s already fragile resources. Scientists believe the Ghorama islanders’ fate is being sealed 2,000km away, at the source of the Ganges, where the Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than ever before and the islands are bearing the brunt. Can you even imagine the feeling of literally watching your land sink beneath your feet?

Environmental refugees are the worst kind of refugees because they can never return. Their land is lost forever and they have no place to go. Governments have no plan for these stricken people whose only fault was to live where they have been living for centuries.

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