Life As a Climate Refugee

My ancestral home is situated in the island of Kutubdia in Bangladesh. During visits, when I awake early in the morning, I have very vivid memories of a bamboo bush on the east side. This bush used to block the bright sunshine in the early morning, which I remember fondly. But now, it is not there. We lost the bamboo bush and almost all of our vegetation due to unpredictable and oftentimes violent weather. Now, nobody lives in the home of my childhood. My brother moved his family to the nearest town of Coxsbazar and I am living in our very crowded capital city Dhaka. When I ask my children to visit my home, they are reluctant, as they fear the turbulent sea and cyclonic weather that has brought about all of this change.

I remember bicycling all around the islands in the Bay of Bengal in the 1970s with my friends. We were raising funds to publish a magazine on the island in the huge and lovely fisherman village named Kudiartek. Recently, I saw the island from the window of an airplane. The whole of the village and its surroundings are under water. During my lifetime, it was a 65-square kilometer island, but now it is less than 25-square kilometers. It is the Kutubdia, what people refer to as one of the disappearing islands in Bangladesh.

Scientists forecast that Bangladesh will lose one-third of its land in the next 50 years, and that this could cause 30 million forced migrants. In an already densely crowded country, this would be a disaster of unknown proportions.

For my work I used to visit the district town of Coxsbazar. There are a large number of ex- Kutudian people living there now, as they had no choice but to migrate from their sinking island homes. After a 1991 cyclone, a large population from that Kudiartek village of Kutudbia had to migrate and were living in sandbars outside the Coxsbazar airport. There are around 40,000 thousand of them, and the name of the place is now "Kutubdia Para" (in bangla para means village). In fact, it is an urban slum. Now they are under threat of eviction, so naturally they feel as though they are in constant movement as they have no home. Some of their leaders used to see me and ask advice on what they should do now and about where they should go next. I avoid them as I have no solution. It is truly a tragedy without easy answers.

What I know is that I view them as climate refugees. Perhaps we are not considered refugees under the international legal definition, but we have had to migrate because of climate induced problems. And these climate problems are especially tragic for us because we are not responsible for the warming seas, the rising tide, or for anthropogenic climate change. We are not heavy emitters and yet we are forced to deal with global warming problems first. And now that the Kutubdia Para is threatened with eviction, they will again be without a home.