Published July 29, 2010
I am back in Bangladesh filming "Easy Like Water," a film exploring solar floating schools and other innovative ways the country is adapting to the new climate reality.
On my first night in Dhaka, a teeming, chaotic, and wet city of 12+ million, I attended an awards banquet honoring the 20 graduates of an intensive week-long course on "Disaster Risk Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change." Sponsored by the new International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) here, it's clear that Bangladesh is becoming a magnet for learning how best to adapt to the climate challenges that lie ahead.
Because in Bangladesh, those challenges are already here. Cyclones have become more intense and more frequent; river flooding and erosion have accelerated; and the flow of climate refugees (although they don't see themselves as such) from rural areas to the cities is accelerating, putting new strains on a system already overwhelmed by millions living in poverty.
The banquet featured much of the "brain trust" of the climate change community in South Asia, including ICCCAD Director Dr. Saleemul Huq and Nobel co-Laureate Dr. Atiq Rahman, both of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies. Turning traditional perceptions of Bangladesh on their head, Dr. Huq has stated that the country is well positioned to establish "a comparative advantage" in adaptation research. "Over the course of the next ten years, this is where the world will learn how to deal with climate change," he recently told The Diplomat ("Bangladesh: Eco Symbol?")
Those honored were adult students from development organizations in Bangladesh and also from Africa, Bhutan, and India. The Centre's work, which is linked to the London-based International Institute for Environment & Development, emphasizes the link between development and climate change. While the courses are just a week long now, the Centre is seeking to develop a Masters degree course in climate adaptation. The demand for this kind of knowledge is growing, and there's no better place to study it than here on the "front lines," where field trips to the south will reveal thousands still living on fragile barriers following last year's devastating cyclone Aila; to the northern "chars," or temporary silt islands, on the Jamuna River where at least 600,000 people were flooded off the land earlier this month due to unusually high flows; or right here in Dhaka, where a visit to the slums will introduce you to a burgeoning population of internally displaced people whose land was claimed by rising sea levels or river erosion.
With overwhelming scientific evidence of the human hand in climate change, those denying or ignoring it (see: U.S. Senate) look foolish and self-serving. Here in Bangladesh, people are taking matters into their own hands, developing and sharing knowledge about increasingly sophisticated community-based adaptation strategies. 'Learn how to tackle climate change in a living laboratory:' it's an exciting prospect for any student of saving the planet.