Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tackling the polluters

Outside a community centre in Jessore district, south-western Bangladesh, a team of art students are feverishly at work, determined to complete five large canvases. Before the morning is over, each panel will colourfully depict some of the weather-related problems that Bangladesh is currently facing, from waterlogged areas to flooding, cyclones and river erosion.

Inside the building, hundreds of other students have gathered to hear activists and environmentalists explain why Bangladesh - a low-lying, poor and densely-populated country which suffers from many weather-related problems every year - is seeing an increase in their frequency and intensity. Scientists say the phenomenon is related to global warming.

Masum Billah Hauladar, a 24-year-old from Barguna district, in south-western Bangladesh, knows first hand what that can mean. His hometown was one of the areas affected by cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh last November, killing more than three thousand and leaving millions homeless.

“I saw so many people left without proper shelter”, he said. “Many villagers are poor and uneducated. It’s our responsibility to educate them so we can help to prevent future disasters, and to get richer countries to help us in the future.”

Activities like this one in Jessore have been taking place across the country over the past five months. They’re part of a campaign by one of Bangladesh’s biggest newspapers, The Daily Jugantor, with the support of Oxfam.

Students taking part are also being asked to sign postcards, which are being sent out to ambassadors representing G8 countries based in the capital, Dhaka, with the message, “Stop Harming, Start Helping”.

Messages on the cards call on members of the world leading industrialised nations, the G8, to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and for the world’s chief polluters to provide poorer countries like Bangladesh with financial help to be able to better protect themselves against the adverse impacts of climate change.

More than 80,000 will be mailed out by the end of November. ”Many of our people are poor and illiterate”, said 22-year-old Tumpa Sangita, a highly articulate female student. “They don’t know about climate change, CFCs or greenhouses gases. But they are the people being affected now. They’re not the people creating the problem, but they are the people suffering.”

Its organisers believe that the campaign is already having a big impact. “Before, many people thought these weather disasters and changes we’re seeing were simply natural phenomena. Some even thought they happened because they were being punished for sins their communities may have committed”, said Sohrab Hasan, associate editor of The Daily Jugantor.

“But now more are realizing that’s not the case. The natural disasters have some linkages with social factors. They’re happening because of the sins of developed countries. They’re the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and they should be ethically bound to help people in Bangladesh.”

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