Bangladesh is considered one of the countries that is most vulnerable to climate change.
With scientists projecting seas will rise an average of around one metre (3.2 feet) in this century, even a 65-centimetre (25 inch) rise would swallow some 40 per cent of the country’s productive land, according to World Bank experts involved in helping Bangladesh devise ways to cope with this change.
On Bangladesh‘s island of Kutubdia, beyond where the Meghna River spills into the Bay of Bengal, sea water is already breaking down the mud dykes and pouring into villages.
Village shopkeeper Mohammed Farid Uddin can only point to the watery place where his home once stood.
His neighbour, 67-year-old Bebula Begum, spends hours every day hauling water from a faraway groundwater pump.
“Sometimes I am not able to fetch drinking water and have to use saline water. You see, it’s sea water all around us,” she said.
Mizan R. Khan, an environmental professor at Dhaka’s North South University who advises the government on climate policy, told the Associated Press thatBangladesh was now regarded as the “ground zero of vulnerability.”
At least 19.3 million people worldwide were driven from their homes by natural disasters last year – 90 per cent of which were related to weather events.
This is in addition to hundreds of thousands who remain in temporary shelters after fleeing disasters in previous years, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Most have stayed within their own countries, including millions displaced in the low-lying delta nation of Bangladesh.
But as their numbers rise, experts expect more will feel compelled to cross international borders in search of safe haven.
They could end up in a state of a legal limbo with no rights or guaranteed help.
On Kutubdia, the islanders are running out of time.
“It was very difficult to leave our home behind,” said 61-year-old Rahima Begum, now huddled temporarily in a makeshift bamboo shanty.
“God decided to take everything away, into the sea, ” she said.
Many live marginal lives at the water’s edge, uncertain about where they can go.
Hajera Begum, aged 63, has had to shift her home seven times and has lost everything to sea erosion.
Many of those made homeless by natural disasters in Bangladesh have fled to Dhaka’s overcrowded shantytowns, living precariously on menial work.
A study by scientists at Climate Central in November suggested 470 million to 760 million people worldwide could lose their land to rising seas if global warming is allowed to continue unbridled.
Yet climate change does not make one a refugee, a designation for people forced to leave their home countries because of war, persecution or other violence.
They are not designated as climate refugees, and so they have no claim to climate-related funds earmarked for helping people to cope.
For an already jam-packed country like Bangladesh – with one of the world’s highest population density with almost 2,500 people per square mile – losing so much land is disastrous.
Bangladesh has no specific plan for dealing with its own people displaced by climate-related disasters, other than offering them temporary shelter.
Many living in the poor countries facing the greatest risk believe the responsibility lies mainly with rich countries responsible for the bulk of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
In October, a group of poor and developing nations known as the Group of 77 and China submitted a proposal for the Paris talks to deliver plan for climate migrants.
Many industrialised nations, however, are wary of talk about migration or having to compensate those affected by climate change.