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On the 19th of November 2011, I had the privilege of attending, as a delegate from Bangladesh,

the South Asian Youth Environmental Meet (SAYEM) 2011 at Bangabandhu International
Conference Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Organized by Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative (BYEI) and supported by the U.S.
Department of State and the American Centre, U.S. Embassy, Dhaka, SAYEM 2011 aimed to
convene South Asias future leaders to spark discussion about the environmental challenges
faced by the region and to find solutions and ways to address those challenges. Unfortunately,
since I had an examination prior to the event, I arrived late at the venue and consequently,
missed the inauguration. My disappointment, however, did not last long as the session on Public
Health and Environment commenced soon after a sumptuous lunch.

Dr. Peter Kim Streatfield, ICDDRB, was the first speaker of the session. He began by stating that
Bangladesh is subject to severe floods. In addition, about 19 droughts occurred in Bangladesh
between 1960 and 1991. With the population of Bangladesh growing, floods and droughts put
the nation at risk. He pointed out to the fact that climate models in Bangladesh are not very good
at predicting cloud formation and rain fall. He further mentioned the global forces affecting
Bangladesh namely the Pacific Ocean dipole and the Indian Ocean dipole with its movement of
warm water from time to time. It served as a great warning when he reminded us of Lochachara,
the first island in the Bay of Bengal known officially to have submerged the aftermath of
which was the migration of about 10,000 people. He added that Arctic ice is likely to disappear
completely in the coming few years due to the rising sea-level. He emphasized on the need for
more research on how temperature is affecting mortality and more data on heat wave. As crop
production depends a lot on temperature, it is wiser to shift to crops which are not sensitive to
temperature.

Dr. Peter also delivered an informative talk on salinity and its effects in context of Bangladesh.
Salinity refers to the salt content of soil and water. Dr. Peter mentioned that salt in drinking
water is directly linked to pre-eclampsia, a medical condition marked by hypertension, in
pregnant women. In fact, this is the second largest cause of maternal death in Bangladesh. He
added that 10,000 embankments protect us from floods and tidal surges, but not from salt water.
He went on to mention that the actions of China are very crucial and relevant to Bangladesh.
Chinas construction of hydro-electric dams along Brahmaputra will divert water needed for
agriculture from Bangladesh. He further added that as glaciers are melting faster than ever now,
India will have much to worry about as Ganges delta will turn infertile.

Fortunately, India has an Inter-River Linking Project sponsored by Australia. Dr. Peter also gave
us a picture a rather grim one of Korail slum and its environment. With a population density
of 200,000 per square kilometer, Korail slum faces severe water and sanitation problems. In
addition, he pointed out to the fact that the slum is located on a government land. In Bangladesh,
slums grow twice more than cities. He warned us again by mentioning the catastrophic event
when farmers had to migrate to chars (temporary islands) in the middle of Meghna River, as
seven of their villages eroded. Some farmers also migrated to Chittagong Hill Tracts, leading to
deforestation. Dr. Peter concluded his enlightening presentation with three questions for us to
reflect on:
Can agricultural land be expanded?
Can agricultural productivity be increased?
Can employment in rural areas be increased?

The second speaker of the session was Dr. Kazi Mizanur Rahman, BRAC University. He began
his presentation by informing us that climate change is the multiplier of existing health risks.
Some of the conspicuous effects of climate change in Bangladesh are rising temperature and
rising sea-level. He shed light on the impact of climate change on the basis of regions. Southern
Bangladesh suffers from inundation, salinity, storms, and cyclones, leading to loss of land and
migration. The region also suffers from injury and drowning, psychological stress, damage of
infrastructure, and water and air borne diseases. He pointed out 15 cities, such as Khulna, which
are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. These cities are prone to water-
logging, river erosion, salinity, and tidal surges. Similarly, northern Bangladesh has its own set
of problems too. The region suffers from extreme heat and cold waves and air pollution causing
respiratory diseases. On the other hand, urban Bangladesh suffers from heat waves, water-
logging, and over-crowding due to migration from rural areas. Dr. Kazi also presented research
findings from Bangladesh on climate variability. Dengue, which is very prevalent in Bangladesh,
is caused by Aedes mosquitoes which breed during a period of high temperature and heavy
rainfall. Malaria is also common as parasites thrive at 26 degrees Celsius. Bangladesh also
experiences frequent outbreaks of cholera during monsoon. He also mentioned that those who
drink shallow tube-well water suffer from hyper-tension. Dr. Kazi concluded his presentation by
talking about Bangladeshs coping and adaptive capacity to climate change.

The third speaker of the session was Ms. Marzia Hoque Tania, Ministry of Health and Family
Welfare. Her entire presentation was based on the various commendable activities of Climate
Change and Health Promotion Unit (CCHPU) of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,
Bangladesh. She began her presentation by stating that the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy
and Action Plan 2009 included six pillars of 44 programs on research and adaptation. The unit
constructed community clinics to ensure participation, communication, and feedback between
service providers and recipients. In addition, the unit created a health network, conducted a
baseline survey, and organized a health fair as well as training for public health professionals. To
keep pace with the ever-changing technology and to have its presence in all types of media, the
unit also launched a community radio initiative for an effective early warning system in coastal
belts. The unit introduced e-health and telemedicine.

Furthermore, Ms. Tania noted that the unit has taken a community-based approach towards
adaptation by training people to remove salinity of water, thereby improving the quality of
surface water. The unit also engages young leaders through Youth Climate Champions. Ms.
Tania concluded her presentation by suggesting that such an active and innovative unit,
dedicated to combatting the health impact of climate change and to protecting human health from
current and projected risks due to climate change, must be replicated extensively in Least
Developed Countries. She then directed us to the website of the unit http://cchpu-
mohfw.gov.bd/. Upon browsing the site recently, I found it to be an active, organized,
informative, and contemporary site. I also learnt that CCHPU has launched a nation-wide
volunteer hunt for youth think tank on climate change and health.

The session on Public Health and Environment was followed by an interactive question-
answer round. One of the questions asked was What can be done to prevent climate change?
to which the panel of speakers replied that local steps combined with international efforts were
required, although the latter should be emphasized more. The next questions were asked by
Abhishek Acharyya, a delegate from India. He asked about the amount of research that has been
done on air pollution in Bangladesh. He also raised a question about the lack of public transport
in Bangladesh. Although a few youths in Bangladesh took offence at that, the majority of the
Bangladeshis, including the eminent panel of speakers, received the questions in good spirit as
was evident by the applause from the audience since it reflected the enthusiasm and unity of
young South Asian leaders in building whether through positive feedback or through
constructive criticism a region free from environmental hardship. Shehab Shamir, the President
of BYEI, responded that the Department of Energy in Bangladesh has initiated the Clean Air
Project to tackle air pollution and to carry out relevant research. Dr. Peter added that the ban on
petrol-fuelled three-wheelers was a remarkable step in clearing the air and increasing visibility.
He noted, however, that smaller dust particles still exist.

After a break for refreshment, prayer, and networking, the session on Renewable Energy and its
Future commenced. Dr. Nowshad Amin, Associate Professor, Electrical Electronic and System
Engineering, National University of Malaysia, was the first speaker of the session. He began his
presentation by stating the devastating effects of global warming. If ice-caps melt entirely, it
will flood many large cities, such as New York, he said. Due to global warming, Bangladesh
suffers from extreme weather and flood. He pointed out to the alarming fact that many lands in
Netherlands are already below sea-level. It is predicted that many other lands will be inundated
too! Being an eye-witness of the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan earlier this year, Dr. Amin
enthralled the audience with his visual presentation of the aftermath of the disaster.

Dr. Amin continued his presentation by stating some of the renewable energy sources, such as
biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar energy, and wind energy. He particularly highlighted the
potential of solar energy in meeting the energy demands in Bangladesh. He started with the
benefits of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy. It is environmentally-friendly, made of silicon which
is abundant, of low maintenance as it requires no lubrication, noise-free, possesses a long life of
about 30 years, convenient as it can be placed anywhere (decentralized installation), clean and
light, and overlapped with technology. However, being pragmatic, Dr. Amin also stated its
limitations which are intermittent power, high cost, and low-density energy power. Next, he
talked about solar cell, which is a type of solar semi-conductor device. He also mentioned that
positioning of solar panels depended on the solar path, that is, the Suns position. Dr. Amin
concluded his speech with the remark a hopeful one that solar PV can be easily used in
Bangladesh if there is greater awareness and market enhancement (demonstration).
The second speaker of the session was Dr. M. Rezwan Khan, United International University.
Energy generation has a close relationship with the environment, he said. In contrast to Dr.
Amin, he focused on the potential of nuclear energy. He termed it as a future contender,
keeping aside all the negative aspects. He too mentioned some of the renewable energy
resources, such as hydropower, biomass and biogas, solar energy, wind energy, river current and
tidal waves, and geothermal energy. While speaking about the latter, he shared an interesting
fact. Iceland gets significant energy from geothermal source, even though it is not that abundant!
Dr. Khan listed several targets of renewable energy applications, such as

Promoting green technology


Reducing carbon dioxide
Reducing pollution
Ensuring sustainability
Preventing exhaustion of energy resources
Encouraging research on cheaper energy sources

Dr. Khan also stated some of the reasons behind energy demand problems. For instance, only
few countries can produce electricity from renewable energy. Although wind and geothermal
energy sources are competitive for Bangladesh, they are unlikely to meet the demand. The
potential of wind energy in Bangladesh is still under debate. On the other hand, biomass and
biogas pose threats to food security. As for hydropower, there is not much potential for it in
Bangladesh, although it is feasible on a smaller scale in Chittagong Hill Tracts and southern
regions of Bangladesh. In general, it faces severe criticism. Agreeing with Dr. Amin, Dr. Khan
mentioned that the best prospective energy source for Bangladesh lies in solar PV energy. The
widely available silicon is the most popular PV material. Moreover, Bangladesh is well-known
for solar home systems. Solar PV aims to increase efficiency and simplify production process.
However, it is very costly. In addition, it is dependent on the period of sunshine. The solution to
this, Dr. Khan pointed out, would be to store excess solar power through a battery for three
consecutive days. Another limitation of solar PV is that it is only used for lighting and TV, and
not for irrigation, cottage industry processes, etc.

I could not be present later that day on the summit as well as the second day but I am certain that
it was as good as or even better than the first day! I am extremely grateful to BYEI for
organizing SAYEM 2011 which allowed me to acquire so much knowledge in such a short span
of time. It also provided me with the opportunity of meeting capable young leaders from the
South Asian region under a single roof with the single aim of sustaining the environment. I was
also very pleased with the professionalism of BYEI. The organizers were keen on admitting and
correcting any unintentional mistakes. BYEI deserves praise for raising the status of Bangladesh
as the host country.