The port city of Mongla in Bangladesh has become an impressive example of a city adapting to internal migrants. In the last decade, Mongla has grown from a humble population of 40,000 to a staggering 150,000, most of the new settlers being low-income climate migrants (The Daily Star, 2022). This article discusses the rise of Mongla and its future implications.
When it comes to human displacement, Bangladesh has received a lot of global attention recently because of the ongoing Rohingya crisis. The crisis definitely deserves the attention it is getting, but let that not take away from the fact that Bangladesh is simultaneously having to cope with thousands of internal climate migrants every year. Due to its geographical characteristics, Bangladesh has always been threatened by a number of natural hazards. However, with climate change accelerating, the frequency and intensity of these forces have increased significantly, forcing unprecedented numbers of marginal people in the Bangladeshi countryside to abandon their homes, especially in the coastal and riverine areas. To make matters worse foreign aid agencies have not been providing sufficient support to developing countries in order for them to withstand the effects of climate change (United States Government Accountability Office, 2019). For Bangladesh, the recent trends in erosion, embankment collapse, salinity intrusion, flooding, droughts, and landslides have all contributed to displacing millions of people, many of whom have nowhere else to turn. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) here has recorded a total of 772,033 internally displaced persons (IDP) as of December 2020, almost half of which are due to climate events (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2021). This number could reach up to 19 million by the year 2050 according to reports from the Internal Panel on Climate Change.
Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka has made a name for itself for being one of the most unlivable cities in the world recently due to its population density, environmental pollution, and several other factors (Molla & Habib, 2022). The capital holds 47,500 people per square kilometer with a total of over 22 million people. A third of the total population lives in slums lacking even the most basic infrastructure like electricity, gas, or running water (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2014). Despite these alarming conditions, with nowhere else to go, Bangladeshi migrants mostly look towards the capital because of its reputation as the country’s economic lifeblood. According to recent growth statistics, 700,000 new settlers arrive at the city’s gates every year, 400,000 of which are low-income migrants and internally displaced persons. They mostly settle in the aforementioned slums encompassing the city’s borders. The International Organization for Migration found that an estimated 70% of the slum dwellers in Dhaka moved due to environmental risks and challenges. Quality of life reaches an all-time low in the slums. Lack of space, hygiene, nutrition, basic goods, and services, etc. makes life significantly worse for the migrants as opposed to the conditions of their lost homes. Child mortality rates in these parts are twice that of the country’s average. Local authorities in Dhaka do not view the slum population kindly but rather treat them as illegal squatters. Development projects ignore this demographic entirely, and they aren’t even given access to essential public services like electricity, water, or gas (McDonnell, 2019).
Taking all these factors into consideration, Dhaka has become a cautionary tale for megacities around the world. It is being crushed by the weight of its own people. Its natural resources are depleting beyond measure; the cost of land, assets, and even essential products reaching new heights; environmental degradation directly affecting the physical health of its citizens, and so on.
Decentralization has been suggested by most experts as the only plausible long-term solution, which is where the port city of Mongla receives its introduction. The export processing zone (EPZ) in Mongla has seen immense growth in recent years from receiving almost twice as many foreign investments. This has created a number of new blue-collar jobs and has made it possible for the city to welcome internally displaced persons from across the country with open arms. The city has turned what many would consider a burden into an opportunity and created a win-win situation where the migrants can start anew, and the city can utilize the human capital (Ahmed & Choat, 2022). Outside of providing jobs, the city has also taken up many development projects to improve the safety and quality of life for the community. A freshwater treatment and distribution system now provides running water to 50% of residences as opposed to 33% previously. Two new flood control gates and an 11-kilometer embankment along with a marine drive have also been developed to better safeguard the community from any seasonal flooding or cyclones. Minor projects include brick pathways, tree plantation, security cameras, etc. (McDonnell, 2019).
The blueprint behind this rapid transformation in Mongla was developed by the International Centre for Climate Change (ICCC). This plan of ‘Transformative Adaptation’ is an attempt to ease the struggles of Dhaka by redirecting migrants to relatively smaller urban centers with room for growth. In an interview, Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based ICCC praised the city as a success story and further added that they hope to replicate this model in two dozen more towns similar to Mongla which can accommodate approximately 500,000 migrants each. In fact, he claimed that they are currently in talks with many of the mayors and officials of the identified municipalities. An estimated 10 million internally displaced persons can be provided with shelters within the next decade if this plan succeeds (Ahmed & Choat, 2022).
The sky is the limit for Mongla as officials discuss further local and foreign investments in the rising city. A government spokesperson recently declared that there are possibilities of 10 more factories being established there, creating thousands of new jobs and potentially elevating the humble city to a higher growth status. The current mayor of Mongla, Sheikh Abdur Rahman, has also revealed many ongoing projects which include widening the Mongla river channel and accommodating bigger ships through dredging, and constructing a rail line to connect the city to an economic hub across the border in India (The Daily Star, 2022).
Bangladesh is often regarded as a leading example in disaster management by the international community, and it’s easy to understand why when we look at Mongla. The incredible tenacity of the country’s people has so far allowed them to survive through much of the horrors of climate change. Technical, financial, and logistical support from the international community has played a crucial role in this outcome as well. However, the question still remains how long Bangladesh can hold on against climate change with environmental conditions deteriorating further and further every year, and the goal set in the Paris Agreement seeming more and more unattainable.