One-third of my country was underwater last month. The heaviest rains in almost a decade began and have still not abated. More than 1.5 million Bangladeshis are displaced; tens of thousands of hectares of paddy fields have been washed away. Millions of my compatriots will need food aid this year.
Calamities, alas, never strike alone. The floods, which come in the wake of widespread destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan in May, are making it more difficult to contain the coronavirus. More than 2.4 million people had already been moved from the destructive path of the storm without delivering them into the even greater danger of Covid-19. Yet while the infection and death rates have been contained, concerns remain until a foolproof safeguard is acquired. Economic lockdowns have hit our textile industry and exports and forced hundreds of thousands of our international migrant workers to return home, with the vast majority remaining unemployed.
Like many other climate-vulnerable nations across the globe, Bangladesh is trying to save lives, shore up healthcare systems, and cushion the economic shock for millions of people, all while avoiding fiscal collapse.
But this is not a cry for help; it is a warning. For while other countries may be less exposed to the climate crisis, they will not be able to escape its destructive force for long. Countries more fortunate than mine should take a long, hard look at what we are battling. Recent research suggests rising sea levels will force hundreds of millions of people to abandon low-lying coastal cities worldwide by mid-century. Will the global community act in time to avert this catastrophe?
Our climate emergency and Covid-19 are global threats. Both were predictable, and we could have – should have – done much more to minimize the risks. But now that they are upon us, the best way to respond, surely, is through concerted international action.
Both the climate crisis and the pandemic are complex problems with many ramifications. They will either be solved collectively, or not at all. It will be futile to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to secure a Covid-19 vaccine for one nation alone, if the pandemic is allowed to rage elsewhere. And it will be similarly pointless for a majority of nations to rein in their emissions and build more sustainable economies if the world’s largest emitters do not do the same.