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Saber Ahmed: "I said, 'the island is sinking' but my brother refused to leave"

Saber Ahmed is an "environmental refugee". A former resident of the island of Kutubdia on the Bay of Bengal off Bangladesh's southeastern coast, Ahmed now lives in a settlement for other refugees from Kutubdia in Cox's Bazar. Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

In 1991 a cyclone killed 22,000 people on Kutubdia Island in the Bay of Bengal, off the coastal town of Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh. Saber Ahmed, 45, now lives in a settlement for "environmental refugees" from the island.

Bangladesh's coastal area and offshore islands are only five to eight metres above sea level. Soaring global temperatures are increasing glacial melt in the Himalaya Mountains, swelling the rivers that flow down from the mountains and across the Bangladeshi floodplain, the largest in the world, far beyond their capacity.

The expanding volume of water is also causing sea levels to keep rising. A rise above 1 metre, which could be reached in this century, means Bangladesh could lose up to 15 percent to 18 percent of its land area, and 30 million people could become environmental refugees by 2050. Extreme weather events such as cyclones are also expected to become more frequent and intense as a result of global warming.

"My family [his wife and seven children] fled from Kutubdia in 1983 after a tidal surge hit the island and swept our house into the sea. Whatever little we had we took and fled by boats.

"Life had already been getting hard on the island. The sea was eating the island, which was also sinking as the sea was also rising.

"Initially we fled to my mother-in-law's home in the neighbouring island of Moheshkhali; then we heard that the government had resettled refugees from Kutubdia here in Cox's Bazar, so we came away here.

"Kutubdia does not have a future. I asked my brother to leave with us; he refused. A few years later, in 1991, a cyclone hit the island and my brother's family [wife and two children] was killed. Only my brother survived and he now lives in this settlement with us.

"People often do not want to leave the island, thinking they will be all right [if they stay]; many don't know what they will do once they leave.

"We are very fortunate to have been resettled near the sea, so we can continue with our profession. I was a fisherman on the island and I still deal in fish here. We are safe now."

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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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