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Geography of Bangladesh – Setting the Scene

(G. Falk)

 

The natural environment of Bangladesh and the people living in the country will be confronted with aggravating problems due to various external and internal forces. Supposed effects in the context of climate change scenarios and population pressure might hamper any efforts to bring about positive socio-economic developments of the country.

Map of Bangladesh
source:Diercke International Atlas 2010 (click map to enlarge)


Most of the densely settled areas (up to 950 people per km²) are located on the postglacial table-flat delta complex of the Rivers Jamuna (Brahmaputra), Padma (Ganges) and Meghna. Land surface is characterised by an enormous dynamic of geomorphological and sedimentological processes heavily influenced by the hydrological situation. Large parts of the land can be described as amphibic or semiamphibic and in the event of severe flooding which occur frequently more than two thirds of Bagladesh are submerged. Apart from the three main river systems draining parts of the Himalayas Bangladesh faces high marine impacts not only along its 800 km long coastline but also further inland. Thousands of smaller islands, called chars, constitute the most vulnerable human environments.

There are two closely linked mayor aspects which evoke growing concern about future development perspectives. Firstly it has to be underlined that the difficult socio-ecomic situation, particularly poverty (average annual income is about 175 €) and the still growing population, forces more and more people to move into urban regions or settle in areas which are unprotectedly exposed to the impact of regular flooding and erosion. Although the so called char dwellers are aware of the high riscs they are somehow fatalistic and see no alternative to earn a living than moving more and more sea- and riverwards. Secondly the complex hydrologic structures and sedimentation processes will be prominently affected by various direct or indirect impacts of global warming. Recent IPCC research results for the region predict more frequent and more intense tropical stroms in the Bay of Bengal (stronger winds and higher waves), intensified percipitation in most parts of the country apart from the north-western regions and an overall effect of sea level rise which is supposed to move the eulitoral several kilometers to the north (cf. IPCC 2007, p. 8 ff). As side effects variations in river run-off due to higher melt water peaks are very likely. Percipitation variability, namely more heavy local rainfall during monsoon season and attempts to regulate river systems by embankments may lead to further problems. Although Messerli (2003) has discussed that there is no direct connection between deforestation of the upstream slopes in the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and higher amounts of water entering Bangladesh (Messerli 2003) some indirect effects have to be taken into account. The question wether potentially higher sediment loads influence the tendency of downstream river braiding has to undergo a closer scrutiny in future research projects. Former generations have developed long term strategies to adapt to their natural envionment and recognised the positive effects of floodings improving soil fertility. Apart from the fact that more and more “unexperienced” dwellers move in, future changes are highly unpredictable and may occur faster than decades ago leaving no time to traditionalize knowledge of surviving.

 

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