Indian Decade

India’s Growing Neighbour

Despite expectations to the contrary, it seems Bangladesh might actually be getting bigger.

There has been some concern that Indian neighbour Bangladesh—a country currently covering about 140,000 square kilometres—will shrink because of global warming. But lo! The opposite has happened. A new study has shown that Bangladesh has actually grown by about the equivalent of five Dhakas.

The new land has emerged in the Meghna estuary, where sediment flows down from the Himalayas and collects in charlands. The study found that the 8.5-magnitude 1950 Assam Earthquake increased the sediment flow and has added a net 1,790 square kilometres to the country’s land mass. ‘More charlands have emerged than we have lost due to river erosion over the years,’ said Dr. Maminul Haq Sarker, who conducted the study at the Center for Environment and Geographical Information System (CEGIS), The Daily Star reported.

The study has given Bangladesh’s scientific community at least some reason to cheer as bodies like the International Panel on Climate Change have been forecasting that Bangladesh will lose about 17 percent of its land mass due to rising sea levels. The new land was reportedly discovered through analysis of satellite data from 1943 to 2008 that tracked sediment coming from the Himalayas and flowing down the Padma and Jamuna rivers.

The study found that the earthquake speeded up the sediment flow by causing huge landslides in the Himalayas, dumping about 45 billion cubic meters of earth into the rivers. Within a few years, silt and clay began to rapidly accumulate in the estuary.

On the flip side, Sarker has added a caveat by describing his study is only ‘indicative’. More intensive research is therefore needed. Regardless, the preliminary data has, for Sarker, shown Dhaka one way to tackle the climate change challenge: by using the sediment in an organized way to recover some land from sea levels.