Don't get me wrong, Environmental Justice is a fight worth fighting. But taking control of your situation, deploying your skill, translating your values and plunging your stake in national integrity deep into the ground is vital.
Given the current lack of anarchy and hartal in Bangladesh, longer term issues over the 20-50 year scale are easier to think about and discuss. One of them is the Adaptation to Environmental Change. Without climate change Bangladesh is already and incredibly dynamic natural environment. River move, Rivers die, Islands form, Cities Grow...
The Adaptation end of the Climate Change debate is picking up, theres a fund for it and even petroguilt dollars are flowing in. No doubt there are lots of opportunities and buzzwords for NGO types to do what they do best.
However, there are 2 government projects that have been running for decades that really need to be considered. They have been assisted by european agencies over the years and are just mind boggling in their difficulty. Bangladeshi politicians need to have some patience and skill with these government initiatives.
The first is the Adarsha Gram Project and the second is called something along the lines of 'char development and settlement programme'. The first creates new model villages for the landless and the land lost. Hundreds of new model villages have been created since the idea came up in 1971. A few have sadly been lost to river erosion. Land aquisition is a real bummer but the AGP is inspiring (save for the donor funding).
The second project has a more engineering focus, where the tidal effect in the south and the hundreds of megatons of silt (annual) flowing through the main river system are manipulated by means of cunning crossdaming and engineering jadoo(magic) to grown new land. The annual figure for accreated land was 6-8000 hectares. Its slow hard work, which i feel should be honoured more and taken closer to the center of water board operations once they sort their lives out. Theres little political faith and mojo in these things. The Netherlands have stuck by Bangladesh on this project. All we need is for a General Zia type figure to pop out and kick it up the arse.
Ok, so two (limitedly) succesful approaches to the 'less living room' problem, but totally absent from the lyrics of the climate/development tourists and sycophants. And I am not even venturing into the realms of resettlement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts yet. When i read cute articles like the NYT one linked to at the top I really wonder who is talking to the national reality.
Of course the Western audience is the target of the piece and the global discourse on the matter is threaded through it. But where's Our Wisdom and foresight?
The biggest problem ive heard about from the people in 'areas of reduced living room' is of conflict. Imagine individuals families and communities gradually beeing pushed back onto eachother by an encroaching waterline. The indignity of having to squat on a roadside, to having to depend on near neighbour and not-so-near-neighbour kindliness.
It's hard to convey the depth of loss that losing your living room means. People's local identities and relationships are what frame their dignity to a large extent. They do not want to loose this, and generally hope for an engineering solution, yes an engineering solution in these matters. Eat that hippies.
Things to do:
Shove a whole lot of 'proper' scientists and engineers into the problem, listen to them and act according to the new knowledge. They will discover new options. Land reclamation should be honoured as much, if not more than theoretical physics, economics and literature in Bangladeshi culture. Raising climate awareness (scaring the crap out of people and jumbling up facts a la business as usual) with climate proofed development dollars is inadequate.
As a lot of this comes under the Water Resources ministry (though it has little to do with irrigation et al), accord the relevant minister with the prestige of a premier portfolio, not a midranking one. Come on, you are Bangladesh after all.
Sort out the Chittagong Hill Tracts issue. No not in an effete lilly livered human rightsy way, but in a broader minded view that we prefer our people to live in Bangladeshi territory than get shot up crossing over to India, or made miserable there.
Crank up the Adarsho Gram Project, but in a multi-story kind of way. This has been envisaged for the river erosion areas further inland.
Supercharge Khulna and Chittagong Universities of Engineering and Technology with well boned research programmes. Find a way of linking local engineering students and the coastal societies to eachother.