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Environment - Unconventional Threat To Bangladesh


Paper 799                                        26.09.2003

by Jyoti M Pathania

Bangladesh is one of the few countries that faces extreme hazards due to environmental degradation and resource depletion. 

The degradation of the environment has been highlighted in various fora because of its universal potential for chaos and disorder.  The United States of America has appreciated their importance of this; it has adopted environmental security as part of National Security Policy.  It is time that developing world especially the South Asian countries where destruction of their environment is fast leading to huge tracts of land becoming unproductive, took serious note of this vitally important issue.  Lack of attention to galloping pollution is undermining the vitals of the citizens and the well being of the future generations.  

In an article in The Atlantic, Robert Kaplan opined, that Chaos will emerge as the main threat to global security in future decades, Population growth and resource depletion would prompt mass migrations and incite group conflicts in Egypt and the Indian Sub-continent. 

Environmental problems faced by Bangladesh are far too many though largely caused by factors, which are teleological because of its geographical position.  These include, deforestation of the Himalayas, rise in the sea level due to Global Warming, sharing river waters with India (54 rivers are shared between the two neighbors) Floods, tornadoes, droughts, water and soil quality and waste dumping. 1

All these act as ecological threat to the environment in Bangladesh. 

Earth Bound Wastes: 

Seas and rivers have too often been used as free waste Repositories, and refuse from firms; farms and houses have often been dumped in fresh and salt waters. This wastes disposal has led to serious problems especially in Bangladesh. This waste disposal has led to serious pollution. For e.g. Bay of Bengal has been used as a convenient dumping ground for industrial and toxic wastes. An American ship named “ Felishia” entered the waters of the Bay of Bengal to dump some hazardous toxic wastes. Media awareness of the issue prevented the ship from dumping its cargo.2

Another example illustrates the indifference shown by the west towards the developing world. The Stroller Chemical Co. (SSC) of the USA had 1,000 tons of waste classified as hazardous under US law due to high levels of lead and cadmium.  The SSC illegally mixed this waste with fertilizer and without notifying the government, illegally exported it to Bangladesh.. 

Now lead and Cadmium are said to cause brain damage and affect growth among children. And had the toxic been actually used as a fertilizer, it would have got into the food cycle and needless to say what havoc it would have created.  Bangladesh for that matters lacks proper monitoring mechanism, nor does it have a trained Navy and Air Force, or the material to deal with the wastes dumped in the waters. 

International conventions do exist that ban toxic waste dumping, like the Basel Convention Adopted in 1989, The Bamako Convention 1991, etc. But these conventions are by no means a foolproof in preventing hazardous waste dumping. It is time Bangladesh should realise that it lacks suitable legislation and also adequate environmental laws to deal with the situation of today, the sooner the government realizes the better it is. Such wastes threaten not only the health of the Bangladeshi’s but endanger wild life and the natural environment and may even jeopardize the global temperature control system. Aside from these dangers, wastes and pollution pose a growing economic problem: the costs of pollution control are rising and the price of dumping can be expected to rise steeply. Waste endangers our health and our Wealth. 

Global Warming And Floods: 

Bangladesh is like any South Asian country cursed with monsoon floods and tornadoes. Bangladesh being close to the sea bears the brunt directly. Incalculable damage is done to agriculture caused by annual recurrence of floods.  In 1988 Monson floods in Bangladesh killed several thousand people, leveled 2 million homes, devasted 4 million acres of cropland and cost the impoverished nation US $ 1.5 billion. Nature it seems had declared war on Bangladesh. The world’s attention was drawn towards Bangladesh after these devastating floods. The year 1990 was declared as the “ Year Of Environment” and the 1990’s as the “Decade of Environment”. A draft environment policy was also prepared in 1990, with one of the first priorities being spreading awareness among the people. Floods affect 18% of the total land area. There have been at least 14 devastating floods in the last 40 years. Droughts too have taken their!  toll . The longest was in 1989, which caused a reported loss of 2.5 million people in terms of loss of lives and spiralling prices3.

Global warning too would affect Bangladesh tremendously. Bangladesh center for Advanced Studies conducted a recent survey and they made the following results: 

1        Bangladesh is witnessing rise in sea level.

2        11% of the population will be displaced by the effect on the Bangladesh’s coasts.

3        The complete inundation of 17.5% of the total land area.

4        A decline of 13% in the GDP owing to losses to agriculture and hence a further fall in the per- capita income.

5        Affect the major port of Mongla, some 85 cities and towns, more than 800kms of roads and 4,200kms of coastal embankment.

6        The extinction of the sunder bans one of the worlds largest mangrove forests, covering 5,770 sq. kms 

To abate the crisis Bangladesh would need to embank 715 km of coastal island perimeters, 370km of coastline and 7600 km of riverbanks. This would cost US%10 Billion, which Bangladesh doesn’t have. Paying for this cost inevitably means further indebtedness.4 

Depletion of resources and sharing of river waters: 

If the way of life of our civilization is imperiled by the manner in which we have polluted the globe, it is also under threat because we are using the world’s resources. One has to show cautioning our consumption pattern. Bangladesh is a member of the UNEP and the South Asian Co-operatives of the Environment Programmes. It has also entered the Global Environment facility fund in September 1997. Under this, an innovative reserve is to be built to implement a multiple resource use management programme for the protection and sustainable management of natural resources.

 Sharing of river waters of the Ganges has always been a thorn in relations between Indian and Bangladesh since the beginning of the construction of the Farakka Barrage in 1951. Bangladesh felt that  India was willfully diverting waters, Less river water availability means low fish catches for the Bangladeshis, in fact 70-80% of the protein intake of the people of Bangladesh comes from fish, fish catches are responsible for at least 9% of the GDP. The financial losses were around half a billion dollars in agriculture, fisheries, navigation and industries.5   The agreement reached by the two nieghbouring countries on the 12th December 1996 over the sharing of Ganges waters, pacified to quite an extent the grievances of the Bangladeshi's, it was hailed as a landmark treaty, in resolving the dispute peacefully. The solution was in sharing the distress. 


The ecological hazards of pollution and resource depletion pose a potentially catastrophic threat to Bangladesh. The present Bangladesh government should take the environmental threats seriously, and create public awareness and citizen action oriented programmes, in fact Green ideas should be taken to the Polls and efforts should be on to create a green political ideology.  


1. D.D. Khanna, ed., Sustainable Development: Environmental Security, Disarmament and Development Interface in South Asia, Delhi: Macmillan, 1997.

2. Courier, Dhaka, September 23,1989

3. Vidya Shankar Aiyer, Bangladesh Chapter 4, Major General D. Banergee( retd), Security in South Asia, Manas Publications.

4. Quoted in Khan, n.30, and pp.91-92.

5. A.Z.M. Haider, Farakka Problem And the Indo-Bangladesh Relation, Dhaka Courier, October22, Vol.10, issue 12, p18.