Bangladesh: Climate Change to Increase Hunger and Malnutrition


Written by Juhie Bhatia, Global Voices

As governments gear up for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, experts are warning that among climate change’s greatest consequences in developing countries such as Bangladesh are risks to the agriculture sector, including an increased risk of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity.

Hunger and malnutrition on the rise

Forecasts predict that climate change could reduce agricultural production and increase food prices, raising the risk of hunger and malnutrition. A World Food Programme report says that by 2050, climate change is expected to increase the number of hungry people by 10 to 20 percent, and the number of malnourished children is expected to increase by 24 million – 21 percent more than without the effect of climate change.

Most of the increase is expected in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia and Central America, as detailed in these maps. Already, the report says, natural disasters are more frequent and intense, land and water are becoming more scarce and difficult to access and it is getting harder to achieve increases in agricultural productivity.

At least ten countries are highly vulnerable to a climate-related food crisis, an ActionAid report released last month showed. Among the five most vulnerable countries, alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Africa and Haiti, is Bangladesh. Composed largely of low-lying land and islands with a high density population, little arable land, and frequent natural disasters, Bangladesh has been described as the “’ground zero’ at the intersection of climate change and food security” by bloggers from the World Bank and Aid Data.

Mirza Galib, a lecturer at Bangladesh’s Primeasia University, expands on the potential implications in The Daily Star:

Scientists tell us that the most profoundly damaging impact of climate change in Bangladesh will take form in floods, salinity intrusion and droughts, all of which will drastically affect crop productivity and food security. We will also face riverbank erosion, sea water level rise and lack of fresh water in the coastal zones. The prognosis is more extreme floods in a country already devastated by floods; less food for our country in which half our children already don’t have enough to eat; and less clean water for where waterborne diseases are already responsible for 24 percent of all deaths.

Bangladesh has made progress in reducing hunger, with its number of undernourished people dropping to 27 percent as of January 2011, and its annual rice production tripling over three decades. But since agriculture is a key economic industry, making up nearly 20 percent of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 65 percent of the labor force according to a World Bank report, climate change threatens to erode these gains.

A blog post on Farming First elaborates:

Climate change is predicted to reduce rice production, Bangladesh’s main crop, and increase the country’s reliance on other crops and imported food grains. Crop production is potentially set to decline for at least one crop in each region…Overall, agricultural GDP in Bangladesh is projected to be 3.1 percent lower each year as a result of climate change.

Call for action

While the Bangladeshi government has some good adaptation plans in place, to further help combat climate change’s impact on agriculture, the ActionAid report calls for efforts such as greater investment in small farms in poor countries, the immediate delivery of “climate cash” to help poor farmers climate-proof their agriculture, creating a system of pan-regional food reserves, and binding cuts in rich countries’ carbon emissions.

The World Food Programme report estimates that substantial international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could halve the increase of hunger from climate change.

ActionAid also wants to eliminate biofuel targets that are driving “land grabs” in developing countries. In a September roundtable session with bloggers, former United States President Bill Clinton said he also opposed countries such as China and Saudi Arabia buying and leasing land in developing countries, as this undermines long-term agricultural sustainability. Instead, he proposed a food sustainability model to improve food security and help developing countries build their own agricultural capacity. During the session he said:

The U.S. and Canada and Europe, because we have the capacity to produce big [food] surpluses, and Brazil and Argentina, the only places on Earth with 20 feet of topsoil…, we should offer longer-term contracts to the Chinese, the Saudis and others for basic grains at prices that will guarantee decent profits, but not exhorbant ones, and stop price spikes but keep prices high enough to get investment into agricultural activities in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia…Until you develop a sustainable agricultural framework in these countries, they not are going to benefit.

Shammunul Islam and M Mizanur Rahman, in a post for Bangladesh’s New Age, also call for sustainable agriculture, since agriculture is a contributor to the greenhouse gas effect. Sahidul Haque, in an opinion piece for Bangladesh’s The Financial Express, says more higher yielding seeds are also needed, as well as varieties that can grow in drought and saline conditions. Researcher Winston Yu, in a Q&A by Gudrun Freese on the blog earthscan, says fortunately many of the current solutions to minimize climate change’s impact on Bangladesh, whether it’s flood management or new crop varieties, will also benefit the country in the future.

To improve awareness of climate change issues among Bangladeshis, as well as voice their stories of climate change, gender and food sovereignty, two groups have organized a climate change caravan that is currently traveling across the country. One hope is that these stories will help motivate solutions from Western countries, which often use a much larger share of the world’s food, water, energy and carbon than developing countries, according to the ActionAid report. For example, each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 pounds of meat per year, about 40 times more than the average Bangladeshi.

Natasha Haider elaborates on this discrepancy in her blog:

Bangladesh has one of the lowest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world. There are two principal reasons for such low emissions. First, Bangladesh does not have many energy intensive industries such as steel and aluminum manufacturing. Second, nearly 70 percent of the commercial primary energy comes from natural gas. Therefore, the solution to global warming is largely out of its hands and lies with developed countries or rapidly industrializing ones, mostly in the West.

In the meantime, Nazifa Islam, blogging on South Asian Generation Next, says Bangladesh has already become an innovative source of solutions:

While developed countries are scratching their heads over how to reverse climate change or how to deal with it, Bangladesh already has a head start. From growing rice in saline waters to creating mobile homes, the people of this nation are calling upon every innovative idea to assist in survival. If anything, the most terribly affected place has become a “thinkbowl” for solutions to climate change. Prone to natural disasters from what seems like the beginning of time, Bangladesh has become very good at dealing with all that Mother Nature decides to throw at her, bending like bamboo but never breaking.

This post was originally published by Global Voices.


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Photo from The WorldFish Center via flickr


pam w.
pam w7 years ago

Shel is right---ANY discussion about hunger must also include discussion about human overpopulation and easy access to contraceptives.

AND...any culture which considers it their duty to welcome more souls into the world is headed for disaster. There are more Indians outside the continent than within it. What's wrong with this picture?

RELIGION often brings ideas which are counter-productive to managing human populations.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W7 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Shel G.
Shel G7 years ago

Why does this article barely pay lip service to the effects of overpopulation on Bangladesh? It is one of (if not the) most populated countries in the world. While it, and its people, are certainly NOT responsible for most of the climate change affecting it, it simply has too many people to be sustained by its resources. It's a good example of the misery imposed by overpopulation, but instead of providing solutions to overpopulation, the focus is on providing food aid.

Elmer K.
Elmer K.7 years ago

When are you people going to realize that there is no global warming.The cycles of Mother Nature every so often change the temps and weather patterns around the globe.There is no scientific evidence to substanuate the theory that climate change is present, and all this bull should be stopped, and all you leaches that suck off climate change should get a real job and forget all this garbage.Now: The worry about the burning of coal and gas.The leaves on trees and plants and the growing crops depend on the carbon dioxide for life.So we should not mess with falacy ,Lets just leave the wonders of Mother Nature do their thing, and all you worry warts get a decent job, and live a normal life.You are put on the earth for a certain period of time, before God calls you, so enjoy the time you are here.and I will see you on the other side.

Dave C.
David C7 years ago

thanks...many issues...yes, they do need some help with birth/population control, but in my experiences in those countries where families aren't sure of their children growing to adulthood the simplest solution is (unfortunately) have more takes generations and education to see the benefits of smaller families --- more quality time, more resources leading to better survival......

does seem a bit unfair, yes Bangladesh has population issues, but they have contributed relatively so little to climate change.... and already have such poverty and suffering in many ways...and they will be one of the first and worst effected.....

Climate Change will eventually threaten everyone and everylife, humanity must have the insight and foresight to think of the bigger picture -- the entire world, the future -- and do what is right now.....

keep care2ing, use your butterfly points to plant trees (500) or offset CO2 (50) or help in other ways....reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, live within your needs not your wants, educate others, and if you can financially afford it support groups that will fight for the environment and for those most in need around the world....

consider Trees for the Future @ just 10 cents US for one tree....about as cheap as I've found anywhere....projects around the world....

Scott M.
Its wonderful e7 years ago

Why is the population increasing so much here, is it possible with millions more to feed it is harder to provide the food and water?
If they were concerned at all about the climate and/or living conditions they would have fewer children instead of adding 100 million people in their country over the last 50 years.

Portland Neola
P. L. Neola7 years ago

Thank you for the article, and I sincerely hope something good can come out of this conference!

Victor R.
Victor R.7 years ago

I feel sorry for this poor people.

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Sayed Iqbal T.
Sayed Iqbal T.7 years ago

Bangladesh paying the higher but she is not responsible for climate change.

Michael W.
Michael W.7 years ago