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Bangladesh’s Victims of Climate Change

Dec. 2, 2016

This year's COP22 conference covered many issues related to global warming, including so-called climate refugees in some of the world's poorest countries.

It's a pressing problem in Bangladesh, which is threatened by rising ocean levels and rivers swollen with melted snow.

The village of Singpur is home to 10,000 people. Although it is 200 kilometers from the coast, it has been devastated by flooding.

Over the past 5 years, land about 200 meters from the original riverbank has been eroded. The swollen river has swept away over 100 homes, as well as farmland. That forced 2,000 residents to move elsewhere.

One of those affected is Alamgir Miah, who lost everything 4 years ago.

"My house used to be right over where that tree stands now. I had property and was able to make a living by growing vegetables."

Miah was able to rebuild his house, but there is no longer any space for a field. To support his wife and one-month-old daughter, he is forced to work away from home.

"If the water erodes the land, we can't live here. We will have no choice but to leave the village," he says.

Flooding severely damaged the school in Singpur. Rising water weakened the school's foundation, damaging the whole building.

"If no measures are taken, nobody will be able to live here. In 10 years, the village might disappear altogether," says Abdur Rauf, the head of the village.

Bangladesh is a low-lying country, with half of its land less than 10 meters above sea level.

Climate change is believed to be behind snow melting in the Himalayas. That has caused a massive release of water that has raised rivers in Bangladesh.

Along the coastline, there are other threats from rising sea levels and high waves caused by cyclones.

The government has been building banks and shelters. But a lack of funding means the measures are far from adequate.

Climate change is already displacing around 50,000 people a year in Bangladesh. Many of them end up in the slums in the capital, Dhaka.

Suleman Badshah used to be a fisherman in a southern coastal village. He lost his house to floods -- not once, but twice. Last year, he sold his nets and other tools and moved to Dhaka.

"Living in Dhaka is hard because I'm not from here. I wish I could go back home, but I've lost my land, house, money...everything," he says.

Badshah brought his wife and 3 children to Dhaka. He washes dishes, making about $4 a day. Since the family cannot get by on his income, his 11-year-old daughter, Aklima, has started work.

Working 12 hours a day for 6 days a week leaves her no time to go to school.

"I miss my hometown, where I had many friends. My job at the sewing factory is tough," she says.

Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson from the United Nations University is studying the effects of climate change on people's lives.

"I think for this village, on short term we need to make sure that people have a sustainable life and livelihoods. We are not talking about something that's going to happen in 5 years or 10 years or 15 years or 20 years. It's happening here and it's happening now."

The effects of global warming are starting to cancel out gains made in the global fight against poverty. Left uncontrolled, climate change will most hurt the world's poorest.