Climate change bringing its own set of conflicts
In 2014, United Nations tweeted, "Peace means dignity, well-being for all, not just absence of war". The statement couldn't have been closer to the truth: peace is not just the absence of war, it is the building of inclusive societies, where people can live with dignity and coexist in harmony with each other.
However, the spiraling problem of climate change has added a new dimension to the concept of peace. Peace is no longer just being threatened by violence—climate change has the potential to unleash a chain of events that can lead to war and conflict.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more than seven million people had been displaced worldwide in the first six months of this year by extreme weather events such as, landslides, tornados, and floods; while as many as 22 million people might be displaced by the end of the year. What is alarming here is that IDMC suggests that this figure is double the number of people who had been displaced due to regional violence and conflict.
Appreciating the threats posed by climate change, the United Nations has declared "Climate action for peace" as the theme of this year's International Day of Peace. United Nations Secretary General, while declaring the theme said, "Today peace faces a new danger: the climate emergency, which threatens our security, our livelihoods and our lives. That is why it is the focus of this year's International Day of Peace. And it's why I am convening a Climate Action Summit."
Bangladesh is considered to be at the frontline of the climate change crisis. According to Global Climate Risk Index 2019, Bangladesh ranked seventh among the countries most affected by extreme weather events in 20 years since 1998. The country is facing various climate related problems like droughts, rising sea levels, land erosion, cyclones, rising temperatures, flood, increased salinity, loss of cultivable lands and so on. According to International Monetary Fund, one-third of Bangladesh's population is at risk of displacement in the face of rising sea levels.
Thousands of children from various school and colleges joined the global climate strike in Dhaka yesterday, as part of a global movement inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. They staged demonstrations at the capital's Manik Mia Avenue calling upon the world leaders to act against climate change. This highlights the urgency of initiatives that are required to address climate change worldwide.
According to report by Germanwatch, a Berlin-based environmental organisation, in 2017, 407 people died in Bangladesh as a result of extreme weather-related events like storms, cyclones, floods and landslide. The country also suffered an economic loss of about $2826.68 million due to climate change.
Environmental degradation presents multidimensional problems for the country. It can cause loss of livelihood, affect social constructs and lead to unhealthy competition for depleting resources, leading to tensions, crimes and violence.
Loss of goods and property, and agricultural land due to flood or river erosion can cause tension among the affected people, since these limit their economic opportunities, make food scarce and consequently put them in a desperate struggle for control of cultivable land. The loss and degradation of land also lead to increased unemployment. This also potentially triggers crimes, as desperate people resort to whatever means they can to earn their sustenance. Moreover, this leads to internal migration, as people move to other areas—especially big cities—in search of subsistence.
As per a Deutsche Welle report, in August 2017 flood had drowned the land and crops of 6.8 million people in northwestern Bangladesh. The land that was totally submerged accounted for over 16,000 hectares, while another 560,000 hectares of crops were partially damaged by the flood. According to official estimates, in 2017 alone, the livelihoods of at least eight million people living in Bangladesh had been affected by flood. And flood is just one of the many outcomes of climate change.
In addition, increased salinity of water due to rising sea level is not only making water a scarce resource, but is also severely affecting farming. This is encouraging competition for access to useable/drinkable water, leading to unrest and clashes. Health complications are also on the rise in areas affected by rising water salinity, as people who are being forced to drink this water, often end up with serious health problems. This also potentially triggers internal migration, as people are often forced to seek livelihood elsewhere when the water in their areas become contaminated.
The loss of habitable, cultivable land, droughts, storms and other problems faced by the people living in rural areas are forcing them to migrate to cities, adding further pressure on our strained resources. According to Internal Displaced Monitoring Centre, 78,000 people were displaced in Bangladesh between January 1 and December 31, 2018, due to disasters. As of December 31, 2018, the total number of internally displaced in Bangladesh stood at 426,000.
The constant outflow of people from rural areas of Bangladesh to the cities, due to depletion of resources and shrinking employment and livelihood opportunities are resulting in major problems for urban planning and management. After migration these people, if lucky, end up in slums, where lives are always at risk of fire hazards among other potentially fatal threats. These internally displaced people add to the burden of unemployment, overpopulation and increase tension over sharing of the already strained resources, causing resentment among the city dwellers. This social stress can be a trigger for unrest and conflict.
Moreover, often the displaced people have to resort to criminal means to earn their livelihoods: peddling drugs, mugging and getting involved in other crimes. This creates further unrest in the society, causing fear and antipathy among the residents. The migrants often have trouble assimilating with the existing residents, as the latter see them as "outsiders" and often blame them for unemployment and underemployment.
The Bangladesh government has taken up pragmatic steps to address the problem of climate change. It has developed the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and cleared the Delta Plan 2100 in order to combat the negative impacts of climate change. These measures are commendable; however, the government must follow through.
The policy makers must also take measures to address the immediate problems created by climate change. The authorities should focus on empowering local administration with resources and decision-making capacity to address the issues locally, since most of these climate related problems are localised, and consider decentralisation of the capital and relocate key industries and institutions to the outskirts of the city to take off the extra load. It should also ensure proper implementation of the climate adaption and mitigation strategies to avert the bigger problems that would surface in the long-run.
The Bangladesh government must strongly urge the world leaders at the upcoming UN Climate Summit to take immediate measures to address global climate emergencies and urge America to came back to the Paris Agreement and work with the other countries in fighting climate change.
Efforts at global, regional and, most importantly, national levels are required to make the world more peaceful by eliminating the risks posed by climate change. Historically war has been about resources, and depletion of resources by climate change has the potential to push the world towards further wars. It is high time, our government and world governments rollup their sleeves and get down to meaningful actions, in order to bring sustainable peace to the world.
Tasneem Tayeb is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @TayebTasneem.