Bangladesh is crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, during monsoon season those rivers burst their banks. In July 2020, after being hit by a cyclone a third of the country got flooded, hundreds were killed and millions had to leave their homes. It is one of the worst floods Bangladesh has experienced in years and the damage has serious impact on the country that has been under lockdown because of COVID19 for months. Food security is at risk and people, most of all in the rural areas, have fallen under poverty line.
Bangladesh has come a long way since the devastating floods in 1988. It is better equipped to deal with the consequences and communities have tools and knowledge to protect themselves. And while countries like Bangladesh cause little damage to the environment, they have to pay the prize for the reckless ignorance of the global players. This is where climate justice has to be achieved – not in decades from now but today.
Lacuna talked to Dr. Nurul Quadir who is a leading expert on environmental issues in and outside of Bangladesh the passion for his work, Bangladesh´s progress, and why in the end the „good“ will prevail over the bad.
What are you focusing on the most in your work: Preventing the worst outcome of climate change or fixing the resulting problems?
Dr. Nurul Quadir: I did my undergrad in agriculture and a master´s degree in Urban Environmental Management. While I pursued my doctoral degree, I studied sustainability issues. My educational background is somehow related to nature and the environment. Along with my educational background, my personal interest helped me to decide to work for the environment. During my work in the Government, I spend long eight years in the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and climate change and involved in climate change negotiation at the global and regional levels. Currently, I am teaching Environmental Science at a University. As a citizen of one of the most affected countries of the world to human-induced climate change, primarily, I focus on fixing the resulting problem first that our people are suffering from by taking adaptation measures. However, I am not stopping myself to work towards taking preventative measures to stop human-induced climate change as well. As I believe, Higher Mitigation measures mean lower Adaptation requirements in the long run. I am also a strong advocate of the Loss and Damage issue as ‘justice’ is concerned.
You said that justice is a huge topic for you. Can you go into more detail?
Dr. Nurul Quadir: Well, In terms of resource consumption, the world is clearly divided. Only twenty percent of the world population consuming about 80 percent of the global resources. Yes, it´s roughly 80 percent. On the other hand, You see, 80 percent of the population has only 20 percent of the resources left. This should not be because this is one single world and we are one single intelligent species – the human species. Only the human species has been given intelligence. It is given to us so that we can use this intelligence in a manner that each one of this globe gets a proper share and live sustainably keeping mother earth functional if you really wish to ensure justice. But we have not yet achieved that.
You may like to look at the pollution scenario. Few of us polluting the world in many very ways, increasing global average temperature and thus climate change, which negatively impacted many of us living in the south. People suffer from malnutrition, food crisis, health insecurity, lack of access to education, in many of the developing worlds, especially in LDC’s and SIDs. People like me and many others hope that in time all will understand why justice is necessary and hopefully they will act accordingly. My worry is, we are getting late in different parts of Bangladesh currently people are suffering from huge floods along with Covid19. Due to floods, quite a number of people have been displaced from their homesteads and took shelter to a safer place. In such a pandemic situation, it is simply adding salt to injury. We are asking people to maintain social distancing and wearing a mask but those who are displaced due to flood and cyclone, it is really difficult for them to maintain so.
I remember Henry Kissinger once said that ‘Bangladesh is a bottomless basket’, but now people are saying that miracles are happening in this country..
Over the years, the country has developed though we are facing quite a number of challenges. In 1970, a huge cyclone hit Bangladesh and millions died. Now, that category of cyclone and flood took place in Bangladesh a number of times but the death toll is much lesser. It´s not even two digits. There have been quite a number of developments taken place in climate change adaptation and disaster management front. Unfortunately, our development gains, in many cases, is being eaten by the climate-induced disaster.
Bangladesh always faces floods but the recent floods and cyclones are different. In many cases, the intensity, frequency, and timing of the flood are quite abnormal than previously. Climate change is one big factor behind that and people in different parts of Bangladesh are suffering from the negative impact much although they are not responsible for it. For your information, the per capita emission of Bangladesh is less than one.
The whole world has to come together to solve this climate change catastrophe, however, developed countries must take the lead as agreed in the Paris Agreement. I believe we have to address the problem – we have now, that is coming and that we foresee. Our inaction may lead to reach to a disastrous situation. The Covid19 Pandemic is a sign that alerting us to act urgently on such an issue. Remember, Nature can take its revenge on us if it thinks it is overly drained. We have to be very conscious.
Every one of this globe has to be conscious of the consumption issues. Too much consumption for one may hinder fulfilling others‘ needs. And that is how we can change our ways. Covid19 has proven that we can change our ways if we have to. Currently, we are not doing things in the way, we previously used to do in many cases. We see the changes that are taking place.
My point is that we have every opportunity to change our way of consumption, not only in our daily lives but also in our industries, trade, business, and individual lifestyle. COVID has brought an opportunity in front of us to change ourselves. Here again, the issue of justice is playing a role. If all have an equal chance to live in this world, the world would be a beautiful living place for you, for the next generation, and those after them. At this point in time, it might sound to you a little bit difficult to achieve, but not impossible.
Do you have hope that the Western world that is much more used to having too much of everything can change?
Dr. Nurul Quadir: I never lose hope. I believe in people. There are good and bad elements everywhere – those two things live together. In the movies there are good and bad people, but who wins in the end?
Yeah, the ‘good’.
Dr. Nurul Quadir: So I do believe that change will come and ‘Good’ will prevail.
There are people in the world who believe in technology. They say many of the problems that will come, can be solved by technology. I also believe in technology but the use of technology must be in a judicious way. We must put our minds together to understand the fragility of the earth and civilization and address it accordingly. Moreover, we must not forget to provide the necessary benefits out of using technology to the most disadvantaged to ensure justice.
A couple of years back people didn´t believe that it was possible to live without fossil fuels and now we see that fossil fuel is getting costlier than other fuels. And people have started living, in some cases, without fossil fuel. Can you see the ray of hope?
Covid19 is a moment of opportunity for all of us. It is telling us to do justice to everything, starting from caring for mother Earth, to human beings, to the tiny insects.
There are scientists, politicians, and civil society people who are working on solving climate issues to save our future We must help them take it forward.
Who do you trust more, the state, non-state organizations, or individual people to bring change?
Dr. Nurul Quadir: I believe in togetherness. I think no one can do it alone. It is a global issue and we have to think and act globally as well as locally. I believe in governments because they have a system already put in place. I also trust other organizations as well because they also have a system that is working. I believe in individuals. They have precious brains. I need the systems, the structure, and the individual brain to bring changesThat is the team that I want for change to take place
Bangladesh cannot fight climate change alone. We are fighting for a long time already. The country will remain vulnerable in the coming days. For your information, Bangladesh has taken a number of proactive actions to address the issues of climate change. With those actions, the risk has been minimized to some extent and saves people’s lives but we lose our precious economic resources. It is said that Bangladesh loses more than 1 % of its GDP. Bangladesh is a unique example of how to cope up with climate change through adaptation and building resilience. Our people are resilient people. They have the courage to fight back. However, they need support to make the most benefit out of it.
Can you give me an example?
Dr. Nurul Quadir: There are quite a number of activities our people used to do to fight climate change, especially in the Southern belt.
One thing, as an example, they do is planting trees at the seashore line. It has two benefits. One, the adaptation benefits; it protects the people from the immediate impact of the cyclone. The mangrove forest ‘SUNDORBON’ has stopped the first hit of the recent cyclone. The trees protected the people. Trees also absorb carbon and act as a carbon sink. Moreover, communities get financial benefits by planting trees as well.
There is a wetland project in the Haor area that the government is supporting where much rare fish, birds, and other species are living. People who live nearby were used to take all the resources that were available previously and that´s how the ecosystem was suffered. The government started the Community Based Wetland Project. There are other non-governmental organizations too who also come forward. They have organized local people and teach them how to live with nature and provide the necessary support to maintain the ecosystem in one hand and livelihood on the other. That works. It’s not in the Haor area only, but also in other areas like a forest, drought-prone north, and hilly south of the country. The people living nearby the forests, Haorares, and other critical areas, have been given the responsibility to look after the resources. They have been empowered to take care of critical resources. And It is working.
These are good examples of how to make people resilient and empower them. It also empowered women. When you come to Bangladesh you will now see their faces and how confident they have become. They are working everywhere, just as men, and get an earning.
Despite the good results, there is still a lot to do. Global support is a must for the LDCs for their development. The global players are not acting as it should be; here we are still seeing a lack. Global resources are for the global community and that´s what people need to learn. People need resources to live a better life. That is their right. And polluters must pay.
We must change our behavior, thinking process, consumption pattern, and resource exploitation. Remember, if one is left behind, we will not win. COVID 19 has given us this lesson
Climate Crimes are not yet considered Crimes Against Humanity but Lacuna believes they should. Just as those who commit genocides the so-called ecocide perpetrators should be brought to justice. Climate Breakdown is threatening the whole of humanity after all.