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South Asian countries unite to combat climate change

One day's heavy rain turned some of Dhaka's roads into rivers. This will continue for the rest of the annual monsoon period. Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN

Eight South Asian nations have adopted an environmental action plan to mitigate the impact of climate change in the region.

Environmental ministers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an economic and political body, adopted the declaration in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on 3 July after a three-day meeting.

They also committed to promoting programmes for mass awareness on climate change and behaviour change towards a “low-carbon society”.

Residents along the Jamuna river make a last ditch attempt to save their home with home made bamboo spurs.
Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN

The unanimously adopted plan includes capacity building for the exchange of information on disaster preparedness and extreme events, exchange of meteorological data, clean development mechanism projects, capacity building and exchange of information on climate change impacts, including increases in sea levels, glacial melting and threats to biodiversity, and mutual consultation in international negotiation processes.

“The SAARC region is the most vulnerable to climate change that is seriously affecting our agricultural production, crippling our vital infrastructures, diminishing our natural resources and limiting our development options for the future,” stated a joint declaration issued at the end of the meeting.

The region needed more technology to fight climate change, the ministers said, while developed countries needed to reduce their carbon emissions, apart from raising a special fund as suggested after the UN Bali conference last December.

“We have decided to adopt the action plan for climate change to raise our voice united against climate change at all types of international forums to strengthen our negotiation capacity with the major carbon emitters,” said special assistant to the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh, Raja Debashish Roy.

Member countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - will start monitoring the climate, including rises in sea levels and natural disaster trends, as well as share information on a priority basis, the declaration said.

Opportune timing

This year’s meeting and venue in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s largest city, could not have come at a more opportune time.

As the meeting got under way, large swaths of the city, home to 12 million inhabitants, including its commercial districts and city centre, were knee-deep in water because of heavy rains over the past few days.

As the meeting proceeded, news came from the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar, some 500km from Dhaka, that 12 people, nine of them children, had died in a landslide in Teknaf sub-district.

As the country’s river levels rise due to early monsoon rains, along with melting glaciers in the Himalayas, river erosion continues to have a serious impact.

Thousands of hectares of agricultural land, along with scores of homes, roads, schools and other facilities along the Jamuna, Ganges, Teesta, Dharala, Matamuhuri and dozens of other rivers in the area, have been lost, a process that will continue until September when the flood-waters begin to recede.

Bholar Basti, a water-logged slum in Dhaka city, accommodates more than 30,000 people, most of them victims of river erosion, floods and other natural disasters.
Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN

Rich pollutants

The Dhaka Declaration observed that climate change was substantively the result of industrialisation in the developed world for more than two centuries and called upon industrialised countries to fulfil their commitments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by providing additional resources, as they were the main contributors to carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which resulted in global warming and climate change.

According to Raja Debashish Roy, a rise in sea levels was a major concern for low-lying Bangladesh, with the UN-sponsored Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change reporting that the country could lose as much as a third of its landmass by 2100 as a result.

Roy hoped more funds could be mobilised from the London Conference on Bangladesh Climate scheduled for September to review last year’s disastrous floods, as well as the effects of Cyclone Sidr.

More discussion would take place on the modalities of setting up a South Asian fund on climate change at the upcoming SAARC summit in Colombo from 27 July to 3 August, he reported.


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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