U.S. Bangladeshis Track Climate Changes Back Home

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By New America Media, Ngoc Nguyen

Mohammed Khan was a child when the deadliest cyclone ever recorded struck Bangladesh (at the time East Pakistan) in 1970. The cyclone brought torrential rains and winds stronger than those seen during Hurricane Katrina. As many as half a million people were killed. Then river waters rose and claimed the land.

“My family lives on an island called Bhola,” Khan recalls. “They have some land, but a lot of the land was taken by the river during a great flood.”

Khan, 51, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., has a daughter and more than 200 family members in Bangladesh. He’s worried about how his large extended family will fare when the next cyclone strikes, and he fears climate change will worsen such disasters.

“As the water levels rise in the next few years, much of southern Bangladesh will go into the womb of the river,” he says.

Concern about climate change among the public has waned, but the issue is foremost among many Bangladeshi Americans, because of the vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate change. Some community members are organizing seminars to learn about how rising seas and extreme weather will play out in their home country, and they’re making their voices heard on the political front.

Bangladesh is often considered ground zero for climate change. Crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, much of the country is a massive flat delta, extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. As global warming pushes sea levels higher, Bangladesh would have the most land inundated among its South Asian neighbors, according to the World Bank. If sea levels rise by one meter, as much as a fifth of the country could be submerged, displacing about 20 million people.

In the last few years, awareness about climate change has grown among Bangladeshi Americans.

Hasan Rahim, a software engineering consultant based in San Jose, says Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was a wake-up call for him and many Bangladeshis in Silicon Valley. Rahim, who also teaches math and statistics at San Jose City College, says he organized screenings of the film in his community.

Rahim connected the film’s dire predictions about climate change to his homeland. “We live here, but we have roots there,” he says. “We are connected and we have got to become more aware of [climate change impacts].”

More than a dozen rivers, including the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna, flow across Bangladesh, emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The southern part of the country is a massive delta, with its fertile land known as the country’s rice bowl.

“It’s really a concern. We’re a small country with 150 million people, so lots of people would lose their houses, land, and become homeless,” says Abu Taher, editor of the newspaper Bangla Patrik, in New York. He says people want to know the future consequences of climate change on the country so they can tell family members to take precautions.

When he travels to Bangladesh, Khan says he notices changes in the environment. There used to be three crop seasons, he says, but now there’s one. “Normally, we would have floods during the rainy season, but now there is no one season for floods anymore,” Khan adds.

A construction worker, Khan also heads up a group made up of immigrants from Barisal, a southern province that is frequently hard hit by cyclones and flooding. The group has organized seminars to learn more about how climate change will affect Bangladesh. From the United States, Khan says he sometimes feels powerless to help his family back home.

“There’s nowhere for them to go. Bangladesh is a small country,” he says. “Where would they get the land? Who will give us the money? I can just advise them to use the deep tube wells to get clean water.”

Khan says his group wants to share the information with U.S. elected officials, and tell them they want the United States to curb its own pollution and help vulnerable nations.

“America as a leader should help all the poor and affected countries, including Bangladesh,” Khan says. “Affected families are dying without food, without a roof over their heads. We should provide financial assistance and even bring them here.”

In the last two decades, Bangladesh suffered the most deaths and greatest economic losses as a result of extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2010.

At the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, the United States and other developed nations pledged $100 billion in aid to countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“It would make all the difference in the world if the aid were used not to buy finished products like solar panels, but to develop local indigenous talent,” says Rahim.

Bangladeshis have already had to adapt to higher sea levels, Rahim says.

“People who raised chickens are now raising ducks,” he says, and farmers are experimenting with “floating seed beds” to save crops during floods.

Until more funds are directed to helping people adapt to climate change, more frequent and more intense storms and floods will create more environmental refugees.

Queens resident Sheikh Islam says refugees have already poured into the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, which the World Wildlife Federation ranked as the city most vulnerable to climate change impacts out of 11 Asian coastal cities.

Islam says there’s more recognition now that climate change is causing the refugee surge into the city.

“They thought the migrants who came to the city were just jobless and landless. Now, the government is mentioning that they are jobless and landless because of climate change,” he says.

Islam says there’s also a growing perception that Western developed countries bear more responsibility for the problem because they contribute the most to carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

“Now, people know about climate change and they are talking about it,” Islam says. “Three to five years ago they don’t talk about it. They thought it was our problem. Now they think it is a global problem.”

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Two Standards of Detention

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amy Goodman, Truthdig

Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion zealot charged with killing Dr. George Tiller, has been busy. He called the Associated Press from the Sedgwick County Jail in Kansas, saying, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault, he is expected to be arraigned July 28. AP recently reported that Roeder has been proclaiming from his jail cell that the killing of abortion providers is justified. According to the report, the Rev. Donald Spitz of the Virginia-based Army of God sent Roeder seven pamphlets defending “defensive action,” or killing of abortion clinic workers.

Spitz’s militant Army of God Web site calls Roeder an “American hero,” proclaiming, “George Tiller would normally murder between 10 and 30 children … each day … when he was stopped by Scott Roeder.”

The site, with biblical quotes suggesting killing is justified, hosts writings by Paul Hill, who killed Dr. John Britton and his security escort in Pensacola, Fla., and by Eric Rudolph, who bombed a Birmingham, Ala., women’s health clinic, killing its part-time security guard.

On Spitz’s Web site, Rudolph continues to write about abortion: “I believe that deadly force is indeed justified in an attempt to stop it.”

Juxtapose Roeder’s advocacy from jail with the conditions of Fahad Hashmi.

Hashmi is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and went to Brooklyn College. He went to graduate school in Britain and was arrested there in 2006 for allegedly allowing an acquaintance to stay with him for two weeks. That acquaintance, Junaid Babar, allegedly kept at Hashmi’s apartment a bag containing ponchos and socks, which Babar later delivered to an al-Qaida operative. Babar was arrested and agreed to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for leniency.

While the evidence against Hashmi is secret, it probably stems from the claims of the informant Babar.

Fahad Hashmi was extradited to New York, where he has been held in pretrial detention for more than two years. His brother Faisal described the conditions: “He is kept in solitary confinement for two straight years, 23- to 24-hours lockdown. … Within his own cell, he’s restricted in the movements he’s allowed to do. He’s not allowed to talk out loud within his own cell. … He is being videotaped and monitored at all times. He can be punished … denied family visits, if they say his certain movements are martial arts … that they deem as incorrect. He has Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) … against him.”

Hashmi cannot contact the media, and even his lawyers have to be extremely cautious when discussing his case, for fear of imprisonment themselves. His attorney Sean Maher told me: “This issue of the SAMs … of keeping people in solitary confinement when they’re presumed innocent, is before the European Court of Human Rights. They are deciding whether they will prevent any European country from extraditing anyone to the United States if there is a possibility that they will be placed under SAMs … because they see it as a violation … to hold someone in solitary confinement with sensory deprivation, months before trial.”

Similarly, animal rights and environmental activists, prosecuted as “eco-terrorists,” have been shipped to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ new “communication management units” (CMUs). Andrew Stepanian was recently released and described for me the CMU as “a prison within the actual prison. … The unit doesn’t have normal telephone communication to your family … normal visits are denied … you have to make an appointment to make one phone call a week, and that needs to be done with the oversight of … a live monitor.”

Stepanian observed that up to 70 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim—hence CMU’s nickname, “Little Guantanamo.” As with Hashmi, it seems that the U.S. government seeks to strip terrorism suspects of legal due process and access to the media—whether in Guantanamo or in the secretive new CMUs. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Bureau of Prisons over the CMUs.

Nonviolent activists like Stepanian, and Muslims like Hashmi, secretly and dubiously charged, are held in draconian conditions, while Roeder trumpets from jail the extreme anti-abortion movement’s decades-long campaign of intimidation, vandalism, arson and murder.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” recently released in paperback.

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