What are the impacts of climate change and environmental damage in Bangladesh?

Tahsin Uddin

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impact of climate change. People suffer from floods, cyclones, droughts, salinity and river erosion and the poorer people feel this more than others. These environmental disasters are threatening the lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh banned the use of polythene bags back in 2002 but, despite strict laws, the government has not been able to implement them. The use of these plastic bags is affecting the environment as well as clogging the drainage system. A proper plastic waste management system has not yet been developed in the country but the authorities have started various initiatives to try to help.

Plastic creates greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to the warming of our world. The more plastic we make, the more fossil fuels we use, the more we exacerbate climate change.

My city Barisal was once called the ‘Venice of Bengal’ because of its canals. I heard from elders that a big ‘goyna’ boat used to ply along the city canals during their childhood, but the scenario has completely changed. Now most of the canals do not exist due to illegal occupation and pollution. Even the river next to the city has a lot of plastic waste. The situation is similar across the country.

A large part of the population is young, and since the future of Bangladesh is in the hands of these young people, it is important for us to be aware of climate change and take action. I am determined to work on this tirelessly, though it isn’t an easy task.

My activism: What inspired me to take action?

As a little boy, I used to visit my grandfather’s home in a rural setting near a river. I felt that the river had been expanding day by day. My little mind started to know how the people of the river erosion areas are surviving due to the impact of climate change. Then one day I read an article in a newspaper about the harmful aspects of climate change. This made me worried.

When I was 12, I started to publish a monthly magazine for children called Lal Sabuj. There, children of different ages started sending their problems and solutions in the form of reports or creative articles. At the beginning of each month, they would wait to collect the new copy of Lal Sabuj. Their interest inspired me.

Now I am creating opportunities for others, especially children at risk from the impacts of climate change in coastal areas, to practice journalism. In this way, they are able to present their situation directly to the world. Many of them are grown up and are interested to work in the mainstream media.

In 2015, I established a youth organization called Lal Sabuj Society. We have been working across the country on climate change, the protection of children and women, mental health, soft skills development, debate practice, and other areas.

There are now 400 children and youth across Bangladesh who are working with me on climate change. We clean up public places like canals and tourist spots and separate the recyclable plastics, which we then sell at recycling centers. The money we get from here we spend on planting trees. We also try to inspire people to recycle plastics, for example through online competitions with rewards. We are currently working on a mobile app where we will present various information about climate change through interesting content, quizzes and challenges.

My life and corona virus

Due to Covid-19 we are all going through a difficult time. At the earlier stage of the pandemic, I was confused about what to do and what not to do. There were various rumors about the virus but I always have followed WHO guidelines to take the right measures.

Since the pandemic spread in my country I try to stay at home as much as possible, but I have to work outside because I feel responsible for society. I have been distributing food items to people in need, creating awareness, and managing delivery services for families affected by COVID. While others were bored by staying at home, my life was occupied by different social and self-development activities, studying climate change issues and discussing online.

At the beginning, I was not comfortable in online activities but gradually I have been able to adapt to the new situation and we have been able to convert most of our activities to online from offline version.

At the Lal Sabuj Society, we used to organize climate awareness programs in primary and secondary schools with workshops, debates, plastic recycling competitions and quizzes, but these activities are now closed due to the coronavirus situation. I miss those times with the kids.

Tips for all my young friends

I think around the world young people can play an active role in protecting and improving the environment. They can adopt eco-friendly practices in their homes, schools and youth organizations. Here are some tips!

1. Close the running tap water when not needed

2. Turn off lights and saving electricity as much as possible.

3. Plant trees as much as you can so that we can get more oxygen

4. Reuse any plastic that you have already acquired. Recycle used plastic to keep it out of the waste stream and reduce demand for new plastic. Taking these simple steps can help reduce plastic pollution and keep our planet clean and healthy

5. Use a bicycle to travel. Bicycle riding uses minimal fossil fuels and is a pollution-free mode of transport.

6. As a youth you can play an important role in creating environmental and climate awareness. Especially nowadays through social media you can easily spread the message of climate change issues to everyone.

We need young activists to make the world more beautiful. You can start a school leadership group or find youth organizations in your area that are working for the community. Get involved and take responsibility as much as possible. Follow different organizations through social media so you can know about different opportunities and get involved. Participate in the movement that is taking place in your country on climate change or any other issue. Never think that you are too young – look at Greta’s example!

The role of youth is most important for the present and future world. You have to come forward now to protect the climate. I would say to all young people, start taking action from your place right now. It's our time!

Tahsin is featured in the UNICEF x Fridays For Future climate impact campaign, which aims to highlight how climate change is affecting young people today and the need for the world to keep to its commitment to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.