Published on 24 Nov 2015

Bangladesh poised between agony and ecstasy: the choice depends on us!

It beggars belief: a country the size of England and Wales somehow containing and supporting 160 million souls – 10 million more of them, guest workers beyond these shores.

Certainly the capital city Dhaka feels full, full to overflowing. Thousands of new people moving in from the countryside every week. A good proportion of them have been dispossessed by climate change, the waves of the rising seas eroding their land, much of it subsiding altogether. The many rivers are doing as much to destroy lifestyles that survived centuries.

Though the rickshaws and their gas-powered motor relatives are everywhere, so are the cars. Gridlock is a way of life. City dwellers are relaxed about a journey that at midnight takes 10 minutes, but in rush hour takes an hour or more.

Yesterday there was a traffic-relieving general strike. The second in a week. They both protested against the execution of two former opposition leaders, who had been charged with war crimes during the bitter violence and war that accompanied independence in 1971. There are serious questions about the conduct of the trial. Hence the strikes. Security has been tight, Facebook shut down for long periods, and the media somewhat restrained in what they discuss.

But beyond that, this is both a stricken and  a beautiful country. As I sat having breakfast today a brahminy kite swept down at speed, tilted, revealed its gorgeous chestnut wings with their black tips and spun away again.

This is indeed a green but disappearing land. Disappearing by the year. The palm-strewn riverbanks in the Delta region are eroding and submerging. The rivers are silting as fast as they deepen with the rise in sea levels. Thousands are displaced each year.

Twenty million are forecast to flee these lower water-logged lands in the next 30 years. The beauty hides this terrible truth. But it’s a truth peasant farmers have had to live with and adjust to. Many of them have simply become fishermen. Consequently Bangladesh has become the fourth fishing power in the world.

Urbanisation continues apace. Much of it concentrated upon the electronics industry assembling electronics for China, Japan, and Korea. Above all, manufacturing cheap – and some expensive – clothes for western consumption.

Since the horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza garment block two years ago, which killed more than a thousand, and from which 2,500 were rescued, conditions have improved, laws passed and the rest. But there is still a long way to go. And many of the workers have the insecurity of knowing either that their homes are already flooding or that they soon will.

Bangladesh is poised between the agony and ecstasy of life. Sadly she is closer to the agony than to the other. But which way she swings depends upon us. This is an able, beautiful, intelligent people. A sumptuous green place, despite its grubby urban streets.

Her own efforts as one of the world’s leaders in the use of solar power, for example, are a shining example. For the rest Bangladesh depends massively, more than any other non-island state, on next week’s UN meeting of world leaders at the COP 21 Climate Summit.

If the leaders dare to be ambitious, Bangladesh can work on in hope. If they settle for modest restraints on global warming, I do not want to have to be the reporter sent to see the unfolding tragedy.

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11 reader comments

  1. John Watson says:

    You call yourself a journalist? Go and join the fascist loons at Greenpeace and WWF, advocates, like you Snow, of keeping millions of people in poverty through your bonkers climate change hypothesis, which continues to fail scientifically.

  2. Adam Wyeth says:

    It’s interesting and very telling that channel 4 news has no problem in building a comprehensive narrative around environmental issues, in countries like Bangladesh, having possible links to terrorism. Yet since the Paris attacks the conversation on the west’s role it has played in destabilising the Middle East, slaughtering countless civilians since the last Iraq war, its Geo-political interests, arms-trading and links to Saudi Arabia etc etc… as being a major cause for this increase has been paltry to non-existent.

    1. Raj hunter says:

      Arabs are no babes in the wood. Over the last 1400 years they have exported more bloodshed and mayhem than the West could have even imagined!
      Even now, Arabs are not the victims that they portray themselves to be. They fight incessantly amongst themselves and kill more Muslims than all the western powers put together. Iran, Iraq, entire Arabian peninsula, Turkey, Kurds, Syria, moorish Arabs of Sahara – they kill more of their own brethren than the western powers. If not the west, they would have bought their weapons from the Chinese or Russian. They are just interested in death and destruction, who supplies the weapons is secondary matter.

      Look at history and know who the real perpetrators are before you blame people.

  3. Ejaz says:

    Another one of those superficial half baked story on Bangladesh. Among others let me point out three flawed views:
    The war trials were fair by any standard and the strike was hardly followed. Life was just about normal.
    Right Bangladesh is the fourth fishing power. But Jon you got it totally wrong…It is river fishing inside the country. We have not been able to tap sea resources because of resource constraints. ..otherwise we would number one.
    No absolutely not you will not have to come and report the tragedy because there won’t be any and we will overcome. Just like Kissinger’s bottomless basket is the second or third tailors to the world.
    Pity, Jon was talking as one would expect to the chattering class in Gulshan and Baridhara.
    Sorry Jon the choice does not depend on “us” it depends on “us the Bangladeshis”.

  4. Margaret says:

    Unfortunately it is not up to us. It is up to the majority of mankind and don’t kid yourself that the majority share those sensibilities. Your stance re egalitarianism isn’t real : some are far more equal than others and equality seen in monetary terms is the progress which will wipe us out. It is pure short term survival and power for the various packs of animals. I wish I could say that elitist thoughts would save the day, but over all the purple, the climate has its own judgement.

  5. Raj hunter says:

    Why blame Jon for reporting what he sees?
    Isn’t the weather destroying the land Bangladeshi can farm? Isn’t rising salination of water making farming difficult? Isn’t madrassa education stopping Bangladesh from progressing?

    Bangladesh is at a cross roads. It needs to decide which way it wants to turn.

  6. Tan says:

    Thanks for caring Jon. Climate change affects the poorest (who are the vast majority) and less so affects those better off. It is worrying that some economic successes make some complacent of the plight that affect their poorer brethren.

  7. jaz says:

    Did Mr Snow buy any dirt cheap clothing in the market stalls?, espeicllay ties and socks shirts and underwear

    The mass production of the tailoring industry doesn’t add much to the pollution levels.

  8. tailoringprices says:

    Wonder if polluted air only affects lung function and cause their associated diseases; or whether breathing it in, eating food especially cooked outdoors and their resulting absorption into the blood via digestive system will result in any physiological deteriation down the line;
    or whether this is just confounded by repeated exposure to the same environmental conditions.

    A factory worker earning 45 a month has more prospects than a rural or agricultural one and should feel much safer with the revised workplace and safety measures imposed; I doubt many other employers would care as much about their welfare despite their perceived low wages.

    lessons have tangibly been learned

    The Superfine cotton boxers I bought my husband from Primark were made in Bangladesh; very thick cotton waistband and have survived many 40+ degree hot washes without losing shape or elasticity;
    Even Primark have raised their prices, so there’s definite improvement for the welfare of these labourers.

  9. anon says:

    Dear Mr Snow

    thank you for your outstanding compassion driven reporting over many years, the world is going to become the kinder more just place we want to see, I guess the challenge will to make this happen sooner rather than years hence,

    keep going, there are others trying to make the world such a place

    when the swords are turned into ploughshares [soon hopefully] there will be all the money we need to provide hospital, schools etc for everyone on the planet, the irony may be that those building these things may indeed be the very companies currently making weapons

    May God continue to bless you and your brave caring colleagues

    thank you doesn’t go far enough

  10. Shah says:

    Jon Snow sounds like a spokesperson for the current Bangladeshi administration – bizarre reporting. Would’ve expected a bit more criticality, especially about whether the Bangladeshi government is/ not doing anything worthwhile on combatting climate change.

    Jon Snow should do a film about the West and how it adds to climate change and pollution and destroys lives in places like Dhaka and on how people in places like England don’t really give a s***. Or does climate responsibility stop at the English Channel?

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