Climate refugees are a growing problem, and Bangladesh is ground zero. Roughly 150 million Bangladeshis live in the Ganges Delta — the convergence of three major waterways. More than half of Bangladesh sits less than 20 feet above sea level. Some scientists believe that sea levels will rise three feet by the end of the century. Should that happen, more than a quarter of Bangladesh could be inundated, displacing at least 15 million people. These 15 million individuals will join the already more than 20 million Bangladeshi climate refugees already fleeing the country.
This raises the critical question: where will all the Bangladeshi climate refugees go? Most likely, they will spill over the borders into India.
That’s a big problem for India. India has it’s own climate change issues; increased flooding is already leading to migration from low-lying coastal areas. India can barely handle demands for resources from it’s own citizens, let alone additional refugees from Bangladesh. As a result, India has been reluctant to address, or even discuss the issue of climate refugees on the international stage.
Where do America’s interests lie? It’s clear that climate change will alter the landscape for years to come. A mass migration of Bangladeshis has the potential to destabilize India, and the US needs a stable India for obvious reasons: economic ties, globalization, and its key geostrategic location.
President Obama is meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 27th, and, rightly so, climate change cooperation is on the agenda. President Obama should seize this opportunity to stress the importance of US-India collaboration on climate change and hopefully prevent tragedy and hardship for millions of Bangladeshi refugees.
As the case of Bangladesh illustrates, the problems that stem from climate change are not isolated instances, nor are they confined to the environmental arena. The effects ripple across borders, around the globe, and throughout many typically disconnected arenas. Climate change will affect not only our global environment and economy, but also our national security, and we need to heed warnings like Bangladesh before the consequences grow any worse.
Image Credit: By Al Jazeera English (Refugee camp), via Wikimedia Commons