Bangladesh: Climate Migrants

Thursday, at the World Climate Conference in Geneva, Bangladesh's prime minister called for assistance from the international community to help the country adapt to the impacts of climate change, which, she said, could necessitate the relocation of 20 million Bangladeshis by 2050.

Bangladesh is currently ranked the world's most vulnerable country to flooding, the 3rd most vulnerable country to tsunamis, and the 6th to cyclones. Already, increasingly erratic patterns of flood and drought threaten food security in the impoverished, densely populated nation. A one meter rise in sea levels, the prime minister said, could inundate one-third of the country, putting pressure on 40 million people and increasing migration into India. Bangladesh has established its own Climate Change Fund and recently appealed to the international community for $1 billion in adaption costs.

We're currently reporting from Dhaka, the crowded capitol where half a million Bangladeshis migrate each year, mostly from rural and coastal areas battered by the elements. We've spent some time with one such woman, a 25-year-old who moved to a Dhaka slum two years ago, after floods from a massive cyclone destroyed her home and the rice fields where her husband worked as a laborer.

In the loaded language of the debate over what to do about those most heavily impacted by climate change-- who are disproportionately found in the developing world where nations lack the financial and technological resources, and individuals lack the job skills, to adapt to the pressures imposed by climate change-- she and the many Bangladeshis like her moving to cities, or across the border into India, are alternately referred to as "climate refugees," or else as "migrants." Whatever you call them, though, Bangladeshis face an additional pressure to leave their rural villages in great numbers that distinguishes them from other populations caught up in the global trend of rapid urbanization: they already face a brutal assault of the elements likely to get worse as the planet warms.