Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sea Change: The Bay of Bengal's Vanishing Islands

Rapid erosion and rising sea levels are increasingly threatening the existence of islands off the coast of Bangladesh and India.


Schoolteacher Nurul Hashem lives in a grass hut set among coconut palms and pine trees, yards from a pristine beach on the sparkling Bay of Bengal. It sounds idyllic, but he longs to return to the island of Kutubdia, 50 miles away, where his family home has been swallowed by ever-rising tides and is now out at sea under several feet of water.

To make matters worse, the local government, which welcomed him when he arrived three years ago, wants him and thousands of other families who have fled to the coast from the island, to make way for an airport and hotel developments.

Kutubdia is one of many islands off Bangladesh and India affected by increasingly rapid erosion and some of the fastest recorded sea-level rises in the world. These "vanishing islands" are shrinking dramatically. Kutubdia has halved in size in 20 years, to about 100 sq km. Since 1991 six villages on the island of fishermen and salt workers have been swamped and about 40,000 people have fled. Like Hashem, most have relocated to the coast near Cox's Bazar.

"The sea water is rising every day," says Hashem, who calls himself a climate refugee.

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