Climate change, sea level rises and water for people: Role of media

Abdul Muyeed Chowdhury


When I was invited to attend this conference I was about to decline in pursuance of a general policy that I have adopted not to attend workshops & seminars because of my short but very intense assignment in the Caretaker government with five ministries under my charge. On second thought I decided to treat this as a very special case because it concerns everyday life of ordinary people all over the world, and more so in the developing countries.

It's a great honour and proud privilege for me to be amongst you this morning on the inauguration of the "Global Workshop on Climate Change, Sea Level Rises and Water for People: Role of Media" jointly organised by the World Water Forum of Journalists and Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh. I heartily congratulate the organisers for a very timely attempt to address an extreme important issue like climate change from water resource management perspective.

As an Adviser in the Caretaker government as well as an ardent development practitioner I am looking at the issue of water resources management in Bangladesh against the backdrop of climate change looming large on us. I understand, objectives of this workshop is to exchange views on the implications of climate change for water resource management and policy development and to identify the role of media in addressing these issues.

Recent scientific findings reveal that climate change would lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle which would have major impacts on regional water resources, affecting both ground and surface water supply for domestic and industrial uses, irrigation, hydropower generation, navigation, mainstream ecosystems and water-based recreation. Changes in the total amount of precipitation, its frequency and intensity would directly affect the magnitude and timing of runoff and also the intensity of floods and droughts.

Bangladesh is a live delta with numerous rivers and their tributaries crisscrossing the country. Parts of the country remain under water round the year. We have yearly floods which we call a very desirable normal flood. But we also have severe floods which affect the country with various intensities almost every other year. The worst floods of 1998 kept two-third of the country water-logged for more or less two long months which we had never seen in our living memory. Last year's devastating floods of the south-western parts of Bangladesh was also very unusual and unprecedented. We couldn't forget the two consecutive floods of 1987 and 1988, which came as a shock and surprise to many.

The floods in Mozambique and Bangladesh illustrate the heavy toll on human beings and property when nature goes wrong. If such events become more common and severe, then the loss of life and livelihood are likely to increase manifold. Riverine and coastal communities are the most at risk. With a global warming and concomitant one-metre sea level rise, nearly one-fifth of coastal Bangladesh will permanently go under water. Flooding in urban areas could also be a problem in places where storm sewers and water supply are inadequate or nonexistent. Urban settlement with poor shelter and limited access to safe water and health services are highly vulnerable-more so because of overcrowding in these settlements.

In Bangladesh, our water managers in the Water Development Board, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, LGED, Local Government Division are aware of impending global warming and resultant sea level rise. What information do they have relating to climate variability? How they would address such a situation? To what extent they have taken into account climate variability in planning and management of water resources? How they would mobilise resources to meet with the variable water supply and demand? These are the few questions to be addressed by our water managers in dealing with the climate changes.

I believe that the workshop would focus on awareness raising and on finding various mechanism as to how to provide information to the water resource managers by the climatologists. We should find out ways and means to deal with management of water in response to today's increasing climate variability. Adapting to the current climate is one of the best ways to improve resilience to a changing climate. An integrated water resource management has to get adapted to additional uncertainties from climate change.

There is a great need to initiate a dialogue between the water managers and the scientists on climate variability. The purpose of such a dialogue is to catalyse efforts to inter-link climate change considerations with water resource management. Knowledge of variations in climatic patterns is essential to sustainable management of water resources. The first step in the dialogue process is to harness current thinking on the relationship between water resource management and climate change at various levels: local, national and regional. The dialogue would seek to encourage regional and local partnerships intended to facilitate the sharing of information between various segments of the population and people affected by or working to deal with climate change and water management.

I believe you are to act as a catalyst between the water managers, general population and the climatologists. You are to develop and maintain an information service for the water managers. The system should be able to provide water resource managers with the latest information including best practice on how to integrate climate change into water resource management.

In Bangladesh, we have many national and sectoral policies related to environment and water resource management. Very few of them totally addressed the issue of climate variability. Plans and policies are useless if they remain unimplemented. We are a signatory to the Climate Change Convention and committed to translate it into action in our natural life. How far have we gone? What is our implementation status? Have we really made any headway in fulfilling our commitment, as a signatory country to the Convention? These questions are to be addressed. We cannot shy away from our responsibilities. Here, I urge upon my journalist friends from home and abroad to play a pivotal role in bridging the information gap concerning climate variability.

Source: The New Nation, 26 September,2001