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The town welcoming and resettling climate refugees in Bangladesh

Globally, millions are displaced every year by worsening floods, wildfires, heatwaves, and droughts as a result of climate change. In a region where weather is particularly volatile, the Bangladeshi town of Mongla is welcoming refugees.

A river town by the name of Mongla, Bangladesh, is not only welcoming climate refugees with open arms, but is looking to reintegrate them into society – not as second-class citizens.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bangladesh is on course to have 19.9 million refugees internally displaced by 2050, as extreme weather events throughout the south Asia region become more frequent.

Upended by severe flooding, the majority of those resigned to leaving their lives behind head to Dhaka. The capital is billed as one of the fastest growing mega cities in the world, but with the daily droves of migrants seeking refuge there, it is also among the least liveable.

Some 20 million people reside within its slum areas without even the most basic infrastructure, and with little outside intervention (plus western cuts to foreign aid) Dhaka is becoming dangerously overcrowded.

In recent times, however, a glimmer of hope has emerged for the people of Bangladesh courtesy of an adaptable river-side town called Mongla, and a decade long project from leading climate scientists.

Against the grim backdrop of daily struggles, the International Centre for Climate Change (ICCC) has been formulating a plan to alleviate the pressure on Dhaka, by diverting displaced people to smaller urban areas with the capacity to expand.

The thinking behind this ‘transformative adaption,’ is that those who migrate can take up jobs and help sustain a gradual growth of the local economy. More than a dozen towns adjacent to sea and river ports have been identified as having potential for the scheme already.

‘They are all secondary towns with populations of between a few hundred thousand and half a million which can absorb up to half a million climate migrants each,’ says ICCC development chief Saleemul Huq.

Among these towns, Mongla has become the first to adopt the ICCC recommendations and had already been resettling those who make the journey across waters. Its recorded population of 40,000 in 2011 has since trebled, in fact.

Initially standing out for its progress made in climate change mitigation – largely driven by dynamic mayor Zulfikar Ali over his 10-year tenure – Mongla is also conveniently placed next to the country’s second largest export processing zone.

Dangling the carrot of safe coastal infrastructure, a growing job market, and the joint support of educational institutions, the ICCC is taking its adaption plan to each coastal town ‘mayor by mayor’ over the next 10 years.

As part of this wider vision, Huq is striving to erect outposts throughout all the climate migrant hotspots in Bangladesh. That way, these victims of circumstance will be best equipped to reclaim their lives as fully-fledged citizens, instead of heading to areas overwhelmed by numbers.

In its infancy, the ICCC’s strategy has been somewhat hindered by Covid-19 and aid cutbacks. Nevertheless, Mongla has set a benchmark for disaster management and resilience that just might help the country cope in years to come.