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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September-October 2011

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Climate Change, Sea-Level Rise, & Health Impacts in Bangladesh

There is increasing evidence that global climate change will have adverse effects on human health, mainly among the poorest populations in the world. Bangladesh may experience some of the more severe impacts because of its unique meteorological and topographical conditions, coupled with its high population density and poor infrastructure. Over the past few decades, Bangladesh has already suffered from harsh climate-related events, which have adversely affected the livelihoods of the people living in environmentally fragile areas. In 2004, almost 50 percent of the total land mass of the country was inundated by flood waters for two months, while in 1998, floods affected approximately 30 million people in 52 out of 64 districts. The country experiences only 1 percent of all cyclones, but accounts for almost 50 percent of deaths from cyclones worldwide. High degrees of “vulnerability” to the impacts of climate change make this population particularly susceptible to adverse health impacts, and threaten development achievements.

In this study, Bangladesh is considered as a model country where early effects of climate change are being witnessed. These effects result not only from gradual changes in sea level and temperature but also from increased regional climate variability and extreme events, including more intense floods, droughts and storms. We review some prevalent human diseases linked to sea-level rise, particularly those from newer environmental threats, such as salinity intrusion in soil and water in coastal areas. These human health impacts need to be urgently monitored with appropriate, well-designed, and methodologically sound epidemiological studies investigating climatic variation associated with diseases, combined with Modeled scenarios, so that early research results can be used to guide sustainable adaptation measures and public health policies. Finally, we identify the range of adaptation measures in current practice as well as those planned, as a set of actions complementary to national goals of Bangladesh.

Terry Townshend is Policy Director at Globe International.

Sam Fankhauser is with Globe International, the Grantham Research Institute, and CCCEP, London School of Economics.

Adam Matthews is with Globe International.

Clément Feger is in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

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