Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bangladesh: Terrorism compared to other security threats


And, in an already food deficit country like ours, over 3 million acres of prime arable land producing 16 percent of our rice would cease to exist, and the cost to fish cultivation as well as the cost of abetment is likely to be in billions of dollars. And the chances of a substantive portion of Bangladesh's landmass being submerged in another hundred and fifty years from now, given a rise in 1.5 metres in sea level, is very real.


Is terrorism the only serious threat to our security?
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)

While the world is engrossed in tackling the menace of terrorism, another destabilising hazard, in the form of global warming, is gradually nibbling at our existence without many of us taking serious note of its destructive potential that may surpass the menace of international terrorism. And the single biggest contributor to global warming, the United States of America has decided to have nothing to do with the international efforts to stem the harmful consequences of this phenomenon.

Global warming caused by greenhouse gas (GHG), in its many harmful ways presents the single most dangerous threat to the continued existence of our planet. And as usual the source of this phenomenon is the unbridled consumerism of the west, and as usual the third world and the poorer nations are at the receiving end of its harmful effects. "Global warming is the greatest threat to civilisation the world has ever seen," according to Kert Davies, Greenpeace Research Director.

Just ponder the climate changes that have occurred in our region, where unpredictable and untimely rains have caught the countries unawares and unprepared to tackle the after-effects.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development confirms the state of climate change when it says: "The frequency and impacts of natural disasters are on the rise, driven in part by an unpredictably changing climate. The poor are the most threatened by these catastrophes and the least equipped to recover."

It was not that the world was not aware of the potential threat to our security stemming from this phenomenon. Pursuant to the UN Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol was devised in order to address the harmful effects of global warming. More than 180 nations of the world had agreed to subscribe to the protocol in 1997 in Kyoto, but, until just recently, the protocol had not received the minimum 55 states' ratification that would make the it operative.

Russia, by ratifying the protocol has become the fifty-fifth nation accounting for at least 55 percent of developed country emissions, the minimum required to allow Kyoto's entry into force. By doing so it has infused life into what many had given up as a moribund agreement. With Russian ratification, the second threshold has now been met.

However, the protocol has not been ratified by the US, which disassociated from it in March 2001 when the new Bush administration decided to pull out, ostensibly on the grounds of enlightened national self-interest, but which, according to some, was motivated primarily by Mr. Bush's compulsions to preserve the interest of the big US corporate bodies that are the biggest contributors to his Republican party and also to global warming. Interestingly, the US alone accounts for 25 percent of all the global GHG emissions, and there have been a yearly increase of 15 percent in its GHG emission level over the last ten years.

Global warming continues and will continue to pose risk to our environment with the potential of impacting the economies adversely particularly of the poorer countries and countries at sea level that are less endowed economically and technically to cope with the after-effects on their own.

While eyebrows may be raised at the equation of global warming, brought about by GHG effect, with terrorism, analysts have indeed gone so far as to suggest that global warming, "might eventually top terrorism on the global security agenda, provoking new conflicts and inflaming old ones." According to former Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, global warming poses a greater long-term threat to humanity than terrorism because it could force hundreds of millions from their homes.

Of the several impacts of global warming, the most dangerous is the rise in sea level.

According to a study carried out by BCAS a few years ago, for Bangladesh, the rise in sea level by one metre would affect 17 percent of its landmass and about sixteen percent of its population. How do these match up with actual damage in real terms? Some 85 conurbations of various definitions will go under water with the Mongla port being the biggest casualty along with 8,000 km of road, 4,200 km of coastal embankment, and 7,500 sq km of poldered area.

Just imagine the impact on our eco-system if the entire Sundarbans were to be submerged. That is exactly what would happen if there were a one-meter rise in sea level due to global warming. This would also see the end of all the coastal islands covering an area of almost 3,500 sq km. The chances of recurrence of flood with more areas going under water due to the melting of the Himalayan ice will compound the situation even further.

And, in an already food deficit country like ours, over 3 million acres of prime arable land producing 16 percent of our rice would cease to exist, and the cost to fish cultivation as well as the cost of abetment is likely to be in billions of dollars. And the chances of a substantive portion of Bangladesh's landmass being submerged in another hundred and fifty years from now, given a rise in 1.5 metres in sea level, is very real.

But how are all these related to security? Robert McLeman and Barry Smit in their "Climate Change, Migration and Security" published by the CSIS in March 2004, establish the causal link between environmental degradation and security thus: "[E]nvironmental change has become a significant factor in international security ....that climate change and environmental degradation were likely to contribute significantly to conflict and instability in coming years ... conditions of scarcity might cause population displacements, undermine institutions and social relations, and lead to violence."

Imagine the massive number of people displaced by inundation looking for refuge upcountry, and then eventually, like water, the demographic pressure breaking-out, seeking its own level, which may not necessarily be confined to the national borders.

"The biggest security problem from global warming would be forced migrations, the dislocation of people because of flooding or drought," according to Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser to Greenpeace. "Or drastic eco-system change could change the resource base and uproot rural people. Forced migrations of people almost always cause problems."

The environmental change may also impact availability of water, more so in the case of Bangladesh, where our needs for daily sustenance are dependent on sources which lie outside our borders. According to the UN: "some 50 countries have 75 percent or more of their territory falling within multinational river basins: over one-third of the world's population lives within such basins, a rich potential source of conflict."

Reportedly the ill effects of global warming may already be in evidence in certain parts of the globe. For example, in the central region of Nigeria where the nomads from the south are being forced to move north to escape the southern push of the Sahara, the peasant farmers are rising up in arms against these nomads.

There is a very strong case for a global coalition against the threat of global warming. The initial platform, the Kyoto Protocol will become operational soon. But one wonders how much will the global community be able to achieve without the active participation of the single largest source of the threat, the US.

The author is Editor, Defence and Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.


The Daily Star 28/10/2004