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Silt,Bangladesh’s shield against climate change

The rivers that course down from the Himalayas and into this crowded delta bring an annual tide of gift and curse.....

Written by New York Times | Beel Bhaina |
March 21, 2009 1:55:38 am

The rivers that course down from the Himalayas and into this crowded delta bring an annual tide of gift and curse. They flood low-lying paddy fields for several months,sometimes years,at a time. And they ferry mountains of silt and sand from far away upstream.

Most of that sediment washes out into the roiling Bay of Bengal. But an accidental discovery by desperate delta folk here may hold clues to how Bangladesh could harness some of that dark,rich Himalayan muck to protect itself against sea level rise.

Instead of allowing the silt to settle where it wants,Bangladesh has begun to channel it to where it is needed — to fill in shallow soup bowls of land most prone to flooding,or to create new land off of its long,exposed coast.

The efforts have been limited to small,experimental patches and there is still ample concern that a swelling sea could one day soon swallow parts of Bangladesh. But the emerging evidence suggests that a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change could literally raise itself up and save its people — and do so cheaply and simply.

“You can do a lot with the silt that these rivers bring,” said Bea M ten Tusscher,the Dutch ambassador to Bangladesh. The Netherlands,itself accustomed to engineering its vulnerable lowlands,helps Bangladesh with water management projects. “You have to use it,” he said.

Satellite images show that in the natural process of erosion and accretion, Bangladesh has actually gained land over the last 35 years.

Sceptics say it is folly to expect silt accretion to save the country. Accretion happens slowly,over centuries,they argue,while human-induced climate change is hurtling fast towards Bangladesh. The new land is too muddy and slushy for people to safely live on,and the force of the Himalayan rivers is so powerful that it can wash away newly gained land in one fluke season.

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