A team of New Zealand filmmakers has released a documentary focussing on the estimated 30 million people in Bangladesh likely to be displaced by the end of the century as a result of sea level rise.
The documentary was funded by the United Nations and features a short, powerful interview with our own Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme and a front runner in the contest to be the UN’s next secretary general. The film was co-directed by New Zealand-based Adrien Taylor and Welsh climate scientist Dr Daniel Price.
It features interviews with scientists, environmentalists, politicians and the people on the frontline of sea level rise, making their living farming along the coast of Bangladesh.
It is a compelling and beautifully shot film that’s available for free to view online and at a limited number of screenings around the country this month.
Here is the problem with Bangladesh – tens of millions of people live a precarious existence in low lying coastal areas along the Bay of Bengal.
Their homes and farms are regularly washed away in flood waters as it is and areas of the Ganges delta are suffering from subsidence. Climate change is predicted to lead to sea level rise of up to one metre by 2100, which will inundate those coastal areas that are at or just above current sea level – an estimated 17 per cent of Bangladesh.
That means the people won’t be able to grow reliable rice crops to feed themselves and trade with others.
Sea water inundation is bad for the soil and makes it hard to grow rice, so scientists are having to come up with genetically modified salt-resistant strains that they can plant in those areas.
As sea levels rise, people will literally see their land disappear. So they will do what other poor Bangladeshis have done for years – gather up their belongings and begin the long trip north to Dhaka, which is already creaking under the weight of 15 million people, many of whom live in filthy slums.
When they find no refuge there, they’ll spill over the borders, into India and other surrounding countries, though due to the geopolitics of the region, they’ll receive a frosty reception whichever way they go. Some may try their luck venturing further afield by sea.
They face another threat. As the climate warms, we’ll likely see more ice melt from the glaciers in the Himalayas which will feed the Ganges river system which empties out into the Bay of Bengal. Ironically, the north of the country is also experiencing extreme droughts.
This piece summarises the various ways Bangladesh is and will be impacted by climate change.
What can be done?
The film points out various things the UN is trying to do to adapt to the changing climate, such as planting mangrove forests to try and shore up coastal areas. They are helping people adapt their farming techniques. But it is finger in the dyke stuff. There’s no way that area of the world can be adequately defended from rising waters, swollen rivers and the extreme weather events also associated with climate change.
The only substantive thing that can be done is to limit the extent of the impact by reducing carbon emissions and therefore lessening the amount of sea level rise places like Bangladesh have to deal with.
That’s what the Paris climate agreement, brokered by the United Nations, was all about.
As Dr Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies points out in the film, what purpose does the UN serve if it fails to protect the sovereignty of those countries that may disappear in part or in full, as a result of avoidable climate change?
What is the sole purpose of the United Nations? What is the single, core objective of the UN? Its job is to protect the sovereignty of member states. Now, for one metre of sea level rise, the Maldives will go under water, so will we and 20, 30 other nation states. Where has their sovereignty gone? Who has protected their sovereignty? It defeats the whole purpose, the single purpose for why the United Nations exists.
You can view the film Thirty Million in full here.