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By boat in Bangladesh

Rifat Jawaid | 14:59 UK time, Thursday, 8 November 2007

In less than 50 years time the rise in sea level could wipe out the area of Bangladesh bigger than Scotland in size displacing 17-20 millions of people. At least this is what we are led to believe by the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

BBC Asian Network logoAnd going by their new status of the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007, we simply can't afford to take the credibility of their report less seriously.

The IPCC's predictions are chilling and I'm not surprised that the BBC World Service’s Bengali output wasted no time in weaving a radical editorial plan around this subject. Nazes Afroz (executive editor, South Asia region of World Service) approached me a couple of months ago and enquired if the BBC Asian Network too would be interested in joining hands on a project that would involve a boat journey through the rivers of Bangladesh. I was never going to say ‘no’ to this tempting offer largely for two, or should I say three, reasons.

First, I was pleased to know that the Asian Network will only have to pay towards their travel costs if we decided to send a team on the boat. The rest, including the expenses on accommodation and the use of technical equipments such as the ISDN lines and satellite phones to broadcast live shows will be taken care of by the organisers.

Panel of Bangladesh politicians in front of BBC boatIt was very comforting because the BBC Asian Network, as most of you would know, isn't a radio network awash with cash and the recent cuts in the news department across the BBC hasn't done any good towards our future ambitions to cover big news. Though, personally I've always believed that despite being a music radio station we ought to take the complete ownership of every big South Asian news story.

Yes, we should be bigging up Bollywood because it's hugely popular amongst the young British Asians. We must also work hard towards establishing our identity as a national radio station, which is a home to the British Asian music. But, we shouldn't also lose sight of our commitments towards covering big news especially from South Asia.

So, I was explaining the reasons why I found Nazes' offer irresistible. This came at a time when the Asian Network is busy finding ways to make inroads into the huge British Bangladeshi population mainly in the Brick Lane area of London. As the BBC Asian Network's languages editor, I've long been on the look-out for any editorial opportunity that will enable us to maximise our reach in London. And the boat show on climate change provided me a perfect excuse to reach this community in east London.

This is because like any other ethnic minorities, the Bangladeshi community in Britain is closely connected to their roots and destruction in their homeland is bound to affect their lives here as well.

The third and the most important reason being the subject itself. It's not just any climate change story that you often see scientists drumming home the message about. If the impact is anything close to what the IPCC's predictions suggest, then we're in for a great ecological disaster. As well as destroying the lives of nearly 20 million people, the rise in sea level at the Bay of Bengal by a metre would mean losing the whole of Sundarbans - the largest mangrove forest in the world and the natural habitat for Royal Bengal Tigers.

I think James Sales, who I know from my World Service days, has done a great job by single-handedly taking this project to fruition. I'm told that it was James who first mooted the idea of this boat show to create awareness on climate change amongst the poverty stricken Bangladeshis.

As I write the BBC-branded boat MV Aboshor is busy cruising along the various rivers of Bangladesh. My team consisting of Gagan Grewal (presenter), Rayhan Rahman (broadcast assistant) and yours truly will fly out to Dhaka next Tuesday to do a day-long special live programme from the boat on November 16.

Sceptics may continue to question the reality of climate change, but I'm glad that what started as a casual conversation in the corridors of Bush house (home to World Service) has now become a massive pan-BBC project. I'm sure it will go a long way in combating the threat posed by the climate change in the Indian sub-continent.


  • 1.
  • At 09:40 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

A very interesting post, which does raise some wider issues. I wouldn't in any way disagree with your point about the IPCC report. What I do wonder is whether you are giving the impression that the prospect of an "area of Bangladesh bigger than Scotland in size displacing 17-20 millions of people" is something which is only of interest to the audience of the Asian Network ?

Might not people in Scotland, not to mention Norfolk, be very interested in this phenomenon ? I only ask because I feel that there is a risk that such key global issues will be put in the compartment marked 'Asian Network', and important Asian and environmental issues therefore don't get put in, for the sake of example, the Radio 4 [or even Radio 2] box.

I also have to pose a wider question about environmental coverage. It is fair to say that there is now a fair degree of consensus and agreement on climate change, so personally I don't have a great problem in accepting this affecting the BBC's 'view'.

But what about the solutions ? James Lovelock is very 'pro-nuclear' and is at odds with many in an environmental lobby that are resolutely against the use of nuclear energy. This may be a tricky area for the BBC if it is not careful to maintain a respectful distance from the debate, so that it can maintain a degree of impartiality and balance in its coverage of this.

I would agree with you that coverage of Bollywood is absolutely the sort of thing that the Asian Network should be doing. But whilst I'm not the world's biggest fan of Bollywood, I have enjoyed some of these in the cinema in the past - and I don't think you should compartmentalise the coverage only into Asian Network, but maybe consider the wider audience.

Having said that, I read into your post that the coverage of the risk to the tiger population is something which may, as I've read it, get wider coverage on BBC World Service, which I think is excellent, as this clearly is something which people across the globe will be very concerned about.

Please don't get the impression that I don't think what you are doing is a good project - my concern is caution is required if it is assumed to only be a concern for a sector of the audience, when in this connected world, we may all soon be affected by this, and climate change respects no national or demographic boundaries.

What an interesting article. Especially when we remember that Peter Horrocks, the head of BBC TV news has said that the BBC "certainly has no line on climate change". He also tells us that

If "Planet Relief" was cancelled because (in Peter Horrocks' words) "It is not the BBC's job to lead opinion or proselytise on this or any other subject. ", why is this new project considered acceptable?

  • 3.
  • At 03:54 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Nick Mallory wrote:

What a surprise. A doom mongering piece of speculation about Global Warming and what the weather might be in fifty years time. Let's be honest here, if it rains, that's a disaster and it's global warming. If it's dry it's a disaster and it's global warming. If it's windy, yes, global warming and the same for snow, hail, showers, cloud, clear skies, frost, ice and a light north easterly in the morning.

As the BBC apparently spends EIGHTEEN MILLION pounds a year on carbon dioxide spewing taxi rides every year, might I suggest you practice what you preach and stop funding them? How about cutting the wages of every BBC staff member to a very reasonable twenty thousands pounds a year to prevent wanton expenditure on holidays and big cars and patio heaters?

That way perhaps the license fee could be reduced and the long suffering tax payer can spend the money on the flint arrow heads and woad you seem to want us to adopt as our new economy at the moment.

  • 4.
  • At 08:52 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • David G wrote:

"It is not the BBC's job to lead opinion or proselytise on this or any other subject." - Peter Horrocks - on this blog recently

  • 5.
  • At 09:43 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Quizmaster wrote:

What is your own "carbon footprint" - and how does flying out to Bangladesh help the climate ? You know - greenhouses gases ?

  • 6.
  • At 02:43 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

Fair play to ya mate. Tell #1 it is going out on the Asian Network because that is who you work for. The mainstream BBC will do their own stuff.

The World should not be looking for ways to stop "Global Warming". Even if there was a way to stop it, the leaders of our nations would never be able to agree on anything.

We all should be looking for ways to adapt to "Global Warming". It is a phase the Earth has been through before, and will do again. The CO2 myth is just another way of control by fear.

  • 7.
  • At 05:38 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Nigel Doran wrote:

Hmmm. It sounds like a great idea on paper, but what do we learn? We learn relatively little that's new. We hear about plastic bags being banned (again) and about the low level of land that might well be inundated with the rising waters (again).
It's gimmicky and, to be frank, not at all original in terms of content, though it does have that going for it in terms of a vehicle, if you pardon the pun.
I'd prefer the money to be used on original journalism regarding environmental concerns.

  • 8.
  • At 09:13 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • TDK wrote:

In their fourth assessment report the IPCC predict a sea level rise of between 0.18-0.59m over the next century (I give you a pro-AGW link that includes the entire IPCC sea-level text. This includes contingencies that might yield a higher rise). The third assessment report predicted a maximum rise of only 0.88m.

I therefore assume that during your trip to Bangladesh, you will take the opportunity to explain that a rise in sea level at the Bay of Bengal by a metre being outside the IPCC projection range is therefore extremely unlikely to occur during the lifetime of anyone who contributes to, or watches the program.

  • 9.
  • At 01:21 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

Well said, TDK. But, does it make the argument for global warming less frightening if the water level rose only by .88 metre .12 metre short of what the author has stated in his post.

I think we all need to look at the bigger picture. We shouldn't debate if the climate change phenomenan is real. Instead, we need to deliberate what we can do to prevent this. The BBC's efforts are comendable.

  • 10.
  • At 03:19 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • TDK wrote:

With respect Kate, the sceptics do not deny that the climate is changing, so that is a straw man. The debate is about whether man is the principle cause and whether adaption or prevention is the best solution. Bjørn Lomborg is one who believes that we would be better adapting.

My objection is to the scare mongering that always seems to accompany these debates. I assume that you do not object because you describe the sea rising 0.88m in a century as "frightening". Let's think about how frightening that really is. The tidal range for the UK is 1.9m-12.2m and that happens twice a day. I think it safe to say that we can cope with a 0.88m rise over a century. Assuming the rise occurs, we will adapt by (a) moving and (b) protecting low lying areas with dykes. 0.88m only becomes frightening if we assume it will happen overnight.

  • 11.
  • At 08:39 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

The rise in sea level by a metre may not have the same ramifications on us here in the UK as will be the case in Bangladesh.

I was there last year and saw first hand the destruction of land, human lives and environment. The continuous erosion of land has already made thousands homeless. Then you have the ravaging floods that have become a annual feature in the lives of Bangladeshis.

With due respect to TDK, I think it's time we took stock of the situation and prevented those poor people from further destruction.

  • 12.
  • At 10:20 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

In support of my argument on erosion

  • 13.
  • At 01:22 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Tim wrote:


In 1993 I spent some time in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal.

It was pointed out to me then, that the population of Nepal was booming and farmers were having to clear more land of trees/shrubs in order to plant crops. Of course this meant that more and more top soil was eroded and the problem spiralling.

This top soil would end up down in the delta of the Bay of Bengal. Where the population was also booming, there fore more and more people living on the flood plains.

Every monsoon season the water that would be held in the foothills, would be washed at a much faster rate downstream.


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