Two meters of migration

Binayak Das follows the trail of migrants to drier land.

Aminul stares at the vast land, no water, no rivers, and no boats. This is unlike his home of water and water. He has just landed in a resettlement colony stretching across arid land. He is a migrant, pushed away from his home on the southern fringes of Bangladesh by the encroaching sea. Aminul is not alone, thousands of people have turned climate migrants over the last five years. He is in Kazakhstan, a land he has never heard of.

He is in Kazakhstan because the 9th largest country in the world opened its borders to allow climate migrants to join its 20 million citizens. Some of Bangladesh’s 130 million citizens saw the need to leave their disappearing land for a safer and less-crowded space. Bangladesh’s population density of 1,120 people per km2 is far greater than Kazakhstan’s 6 people per km2. Kazakhstan welcomed those who could support its growing agricultural and energy sectors.

Aminul’s journey was quick. His degree and knowledge of the gas industry made it easy to get a visa and job.

Others were not so lucky.

Shahid, a fisherman from the Chittagong region, was also suffering climate change pangs. He didn’t have education, so he had to fight his way to higher elevations. Aminul flew to Kazakhstan in a day. Shahid turned to the trafficking networks set up 20 years earlier (during the Syrian war), trudging via boat, foot, and bus for two years to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s new residents escaped the first threat of climate change.

Kazakhstan didn’t open its gates willingly. With the onslaught of climate change submerging low-lying countries and small islands, people tried to escape by any possible means. Voices across the globe screamed for measures to avoid catastrophe. Europe, China, India and the US worried that their densely populated countries would be overwhelmed. Other countries with conflict, economic and political migrants said they could take no more.

Under pressure from all sides, the UN launched negotiations 10 years ago to cope with climate crisis migrants. Many proposals were put forward, but most were denied by “already burdened” countries. There was a risk that migrants without options would turn borders into bloodbaths.

And then came a shocking proposal from a tiny Pacific island: “land rich” countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan could open their borders.

The first reactions from these countries was a big NO, but global and local protests made politicians reconsider. Trade-offs started to emerge as businesses and governments looked at migrants as a boon to their ailing economies and falling fertilities. Soon, they were joined by other countries seeking to combine labour and capital.

Within five years, people were moving ahead of climate change. Now Aminul and Sahidul stand, staring at a vast land without water, rivers and  boats, looking to a different future.

And then they understood the second threat of climate change.


Binayak Das started this piece in a Dhaka hotel room, finished it in Amsterdam airport, and sent it from Malang. All these places will experience life plus two meters before others. He has about 16 years experience working on water, environment, climate change and sustainable development. Binayak is a Panos journalist fellow and author of numerous books, papers and articles. His wide travels and field visits to remotest regions gives him insight into development challenges and solutions in police and practice. He is currently associated with the Water Integrity Network in Berlin.

Slowly too late

Slowly
The light enters our eyes
Slowly
The answers now too late
Lie scattered on university tables
In books
In speeches
In films
Plans are hurriedly hatched
To save what is left
Too slow
Too late


majelMajel Haugh is a writer based in Limerick city. Her work has appeared in Abridged, Limerick Literary Revival and Burning Bush 2. She was also a finalist in the Desmond O’Grady International poetry competition.

hourofwrites* This vision was submitted for the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.

Climate change and childhood dreams

Usha Nair channels gratitude from a girl living in 2030. Thanks to prompt action at the turn of the 21st century, her life is not nearly as bad as it could have been.

Harsha looked out of the window. She could see a gale building up. Trees were swaying in the wind. The noise of waves crashing against the shore some distance away could be heard clearly. She sighed and tried to keep down the fear building up inside her. This could be the beginning of yet another bad period when they would be restricted within the four walls, scared to step out and forever weary of the giant waves and sea surge that had marked previous instances of such weather. She had read in her Class VI textbook that sea levels were predicted to rise by two meters by end of the century.

The year was 2030. Harsha recalled how her mother recounted stories of her own childhood when they enjoyed the rains, running out to get drenched in the downpour and get scolded on return. Rains were regular and moderate. There was a pattern in weather events and events round the year could be predicted fairly accurately. Schools reopened after the summer vacations to torrential monsoon rains. Festival season was filled with flowers, fruits and pleasant weather. Summer was hot and humid but not too hot to run out and play through the day. What fun they seemed to have had when the whole extended family assembled at the family home in the village for school vacations!

Her father regaled them with stories about his feats in the village pond and river. He and his friends used to spend hours splashing in the water and racing each other across the wide river. But the river she saw was only a small trickle of smelly water, waylaid with lumps of unfriendly grass and mounts of sand and rock.

The family had paid short visits to their village when she was a little girl. But the journey always left bad memories, plagued by water scarcity, swarming mosquitoes and inclement weather. Over the years they had stopped undertaking those visits, much to the regret of her mother. Harsha particularly remembered the vibrant colours of the butterflies her aunt had told her about. She had only seen a rare butterfly in the park, that too in dull monotonous colours. Where have the colours disappeared. How dull and dreary her childhood seemed when compared to the lively, peppy childhood of her parents and grandparents! Who had taken away all the fun and frolic? She wished something could be done to restore the old life.

Harsha ran to her grandfather and plagued him with questions and doubts. He explained to her how Man’s reckless activities over decades and centuries had destroyed the environment. Chasing the dreams of riches, comfort and enjoyment, Man went about exploiting Nature’s resources without giving anything back. Slowly, ominously, the balance of Nature crumbled. Natural resources were plundered and fragile species made extinct. Natural protection for lands and seas (such as, coral reefs and mangrove forests) were destroyed in the name of development, leaving them open to danger and destruction. Climate changed all over the world. The world now faced extreme events, unprecedented heat and cold, destructive deluges and fearful sea surges.

“But, Grandpa,” exclaimed Harsha, “if Man is responsible for all this, surely he can try to undo the destruction too, can’t he?” Her grandfather nodded his head, “Some of the damage is unfortunately irreversible. But the good news is that Man has realised his grave mistakes and is already trying to restore some element of harmony and beauty in nature. ” He explained that all the countries of the world got together at the turn of the century to discuss the serious implications of the recklessness of Man. There were scientific studies and political negotiations. Before too long everyone realised that climate change is the biggest threat ever faced by humanity. It respected no divisions of prosperity, education, social status or religious belief. All people and all countries were equally affected and were destined to suffer the consequences. They realised that unless everyone joined hands and worked really hard, this calamity could not be avoided. Good sense prevailed upon the leaders of all the countries – developed, developing, under-developed – who resolved to take urgent steps necessary to keep the threat of global destruction away.

Countries took urgent steps to reduce their carbon emissions through safe energy, improved designs of buildings and vehicles, managing and protecting water resources, altering luxurious life styles with huge carbon footprints, making towns, cities and villages safe and healthy for people, ensuring sufficient food for all etc.

Now scientists say that all this has helped in bringing down emissions of harmful gases. They were looking forward to a carbon neutral world very soon. The years leading upto 2030 had seen countries pursuing development in more responsible ways, taking care to keep the methods safe and nature friendly. Of course, developing and less developed countries had to pursue some traditional methods and patterns, but they too had crossed the level of peak emissions and had started showing a sloping trend.

Harsha smiled with relief. She felt assured that her generation could look forward to a better world, a world in which there are colourful butterflies and meandering rivers. A world in which they can run around and enjoy the rains and play to their heart’s fill in parks and gardens. In her heart she thanked the elder generation who had shown the wisdom and good sense to arrest the journey to doom by taking action with unity. At the same time she felt a sense of responsibility. It is up to children like her to make sure that the world does not fall back into the crevice of destruction and degradation of nature. They have to be vigilant and caring, to keep Mother Earth from again facing the inhumane treatment she had been subjected to in the past. She resolved to talk to her friends and spread the word about our precious earth and its bounty, and the need to preserve and protect them at all costs.


Usha Nair (email) is a voluntary social worker who is engaged in climate change related work. She is the Member-in-charge (Climate Change) at All India Women’s Conference, a 87-year old national women’s organisation in India. In this capacity she is in charge of organising awareness, advocacy and project-based activities on climate change across the country through more than 600 branches of AIWC. Till June 2016 she held the position of Co-focal Point, Women and Gender Constituency at UNFCCC. She has been attending UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) since 2011.