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Too early to link Cyclone Sidr to global warming - researcher

A man transfers his belongings two days after Cyclone Sidr struck his home. Thousands of people along (Bagerhat district) southern Bangladesh's, November 2007, were killed, with many more injured.
A man transfers his belongings two days after Cyclone Sidr struck his home in Bagerhat district, southern Bangladesh. November 2007 (Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN)

A senior researcher with the UK-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Oxfam says it is too early to say that Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh last week, is related to global climate change.

“No one can yet say whether the devastation from Cyclone Sidr is related to global warming. The world’s scientists are building better models and collecting more data so that they will eventually be able to draw specific links between individual events and climate change, but so far their ability to do this is very limited,” Kate Raworth, a senior researcher with Oxfam GB, told IRIN on 20 November from London.

“So while we cannot say now whether Cyclone Sidr is related to climate change, perhaps in 10 years time we will know,” Raworth said.

Raworth’s comments followed the release of the fifth report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development entitled “Up in smoke? Asia and the Pacific” on 19 November. The report, compiled by over 35 development and environmental groups, including Oxfam and Greenpeace, says there is a growing consensus about the huge challenges facing heavily populated Asia (four billion people). The report came out just a few days after Cyclone Sidr struck.

More on Cyclone Sidr
Cyclone death toll likely to climb
Death toll rises, relief operation geared up
Killer cyclone strikes southern coast

“Bangladesh features prominently in the report as a country where millions of poor people, eking out a living on farmland and in coastal areas, are already bearing the brunt of man-made climate change,” said Oxfam International’s Bert Maerten in a statement.

“While cyclones of this magnitude reveal the extreme vulnerability of poor communities, the ongoing erratic weather conditions experienced the world over mean a daily struggle for the millions of poor people who rely on the land and sea for their survival,” Maerten said.

According to the report, at least 174 disasters affected Bangladesh from 1974 to 2003. Extreme events, such as floods and flash floods, droughts, severe erosion and cyclones, are commonly linked to climate change. Studies have shown that the frequency, and in some cases the intensity, of these events are directly related to climate change.

Intensity of cyclones increasing

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the frequency of cyclone formation in the Bay of Bengal has declined since 1970 but the intensity of the cyclones is increasing. Government initiatives to build cyclone shelters and establish early warning systems have meant fewer lives have been lost, but more efforts are needed, the report says.

''So while we cannot say now whether Cyclone Sidr is related to climate change, perhaps in 10 years time we will know.''

“…the important point is that we do know that climate change is likely to make storms and cyclones like this become more intense,” Raworth said. “So whether or not this particular cyclone was caused by climate change, Bangladesh will need to be more prepared for events like this as a result of climate change.”

Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change because it is exposed to many damaging weather events, and its low level of development means that people are particularly vulnerable to the impact of those events, the Oxfam researcher said.

The main impacts of global warming that scientists predict in Bangladesh include: rising sea levels, leading to salination of the soil; rising temperatures; changing rainfall (becoming more intense during the monsoon season); more droughts and floods; and more intense storms.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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