Bangladesh leader: Our problems are global problems

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WOOSTER, Ohio – While the world debates the causes of global warming, the president of Bangladesh looks across his country and sees coastal regions that could be wiped out if the sea level rises even as little as 10 centimeters.
Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed was in Ohio last week to share his story and raise awareness of potential impending disasters if remediation or adaptive measures aren’t taken now.
Speaking in Wooster Nov. 1, Ahmed said “any kind of rise of sea level will be detrimental to the country. Immediately.”
Looking for help. The Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, home to 140 million people, is densely populated, and much of the country is low-lying and is frequently flooded by branches of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers that flow out of the Himalayas. In fact, floodplains cover 80 percent of the country’s land area.
Ahmed, who holds a doctorate in soil science from the University of Wisconsin, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified Bangladesh as one of the most susceptible countries in the world.
Predicted climate change impacts in the south Asian country range from overall increase in sea level, and an increase in temperature and rainfall, to more intense weather disasters like floods or droughts.
If a sea level rise of 10 centimeters occurs, as some predict will happen by 2020, 2 percent of Bangladesh would be inundated.
“We are already suffering,” added H.E.M. Humayun Kabir, the Bangladesh ambassador to the United States. “We don’t contribute to global warming. Help us.”
The ambassador and the president both said Bangladesh would be a good site to test adaptive strategies, or ways to help the country deal with subtle environmental changes under way, like increased erosion due to greater water flow from the Himalayas.
“How do we deal with it?” said Kabir. “We don’t have the capacity or the resources.”
Why Ohio? Ahmed came to the U.S. at the invitation of Ohio State University soil scientist Rattan Lal, who currently serves as president of the Soil Science Society of America. At Lal’s request, the Bangladesh president agreed to speak at the society’s international annual meeting Nov. 5 in New Orleans.
During his seven-day official visit to the U.S., Ahmed visited only Ohio State University’s Columbus and Wooster campuses – thanks to Lal’s connection – before traveling to New Orleans. While in Ohio, the president also watched Ohio State’s football team beat his alma mater, Wisconsin.
“Their problems are very unique,” because of the country’s dense population and low-lying geography, said Lal, who was the lead author of the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment from 2003 to 2005 and is an international expert on issues of water, soils and carbon sequestration.
And he agreed with President Ahmed’s call for international action.
“I think a global issue should be addressed by the global community,” Lal said.
What’s next? President Ahmed’s meeting with Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is likely to lead to a formal South Asia Working Group within the university, according to Bob Moser, vice president for agricultural administration.
“It’s an opportunity for us to build strong relations with Bangladesh and the university there,” Moser said, adding that Ohio State already has several research ties with the country, including work by plant pathologist Sally Miller.
Miller has traveled to Bangladesh at least five times since 1999 to work with scientists there to improve vegetable production and integrated pest management. Her work is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
After setting priorities, the working group could facilitate a faculty and student exchange, and Moser said Ohio State has already offered to host faculty in Rattan Lal’s lab. The group could also seek outside funding from third parties for research projects, and build a stronger network of scientists across the U.S. with interests in South Asia.
Education. The president also gave a lecture on the Bangladesh educational system at Ohio State’s research campus at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
A former soil science professor at Dhaka University, the president continues to emphasize educational reforms in his own country, reforms that include a stipend to female students up to the 12th grade to encourage education.
Enrollment at primary levels is strong, currently at 97.6 percent, but it drops to 47 percent in the secondary level (grades 9-12). The drop-out rate in grades 9-10 is 69.5 percent; in grades 11-12, 36.5 percent.
“We need to work together for education,” Ahmed said, and asked Ohio State to provide more scholarships to students from developing countries.
“I’m a teacher,” Ahmed said, confessing that seeing all the Ohio State students carrying backpacks on their way to classes brought back memories.
“I was in tears. What a wonderful thing to happen in your life,” he added. “I want to go back again.”
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

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