Jul 122016

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam: As many as 140 million people in Bangladesh may be at risk from a huge earthquake as pressure builds beneath the surface of one of the world’s most densely populated nations, US and Bangladeshi scientists say.

Sediment flows from the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers have layered parts of the country with as much as 20 kilometres of sand and mud, masking until now the extension of the same fault line that triggered the 2004 Sumatra tsunami and killed 230,000 people.

“The fault is entirely in the sub-surface,” said Michael Steckler, a geophysicist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and lead author of a paper published this week in Nature Geoscience. “It’s been suspected but we haven’t had the data to prove that [the pressure] is actually been building up.”

Data collected since 2004 by Professor Steckler’s team has found that a juncture between major tectonic plates in the region is locked and loading up with stress.
Measurements found convergence of tectonic plates at the rate of 13-17 mm per year “on an active, shallowly dipping and locked megathrust fault”, the paper said.

That build-up has the potential to trigger major shifts in land and also an earthquake with a magnitude of between 8.2 and 9.

“We can see the strain building up, we can see the motion of the plates but we can’t estimate when something might happen,” Professor Steckler told Fairfax Media, adding that the build-up had been going on for at least 400 years and perhaps as long as 2000.

“It would certainly be one of the largest [recorded quakes],” he said. “I suspect it might be at the lower end [of the 8.2-9 scale], but I can’t rule out a really large one.”

(See chart below showing the Indian Plate colliding with the Eurasian Plate that has created the Himalayas and triggered major recorded earthquakes. The Burma or Sunda Plate is also shifting westwards into Bangladesh.)

Scientists can’t tell when the next major quake will strike nor where the rupture in the fault will be the most severe. However, Bangladeshi’s location mostly on the river delta of the giant Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta makes the bulk of its 160 million population particularly vulnerable, should a large one occur.

Professor Steckler said a 250 kilometre by 250 kilometre region – including the capital, Dhaka, a megacity with a population of 15 million – is of significant risk.

This area (see chart below) is home to about 140 million people, and sits atop deep sediment that could liquefy in many places in the advent of a big quake. Whole buildings and infrastructure could sink into the sand and soil.

Buildings might “not even break, but literally fall over because the soil loses solidity”, he said.

Dhaka’s streets, which already experience traffic that “can be really terrible in normal times”, could quickly become impassable. “Getting emergency services, foods and water to people is going to be a nightmare,” Professor Steckler said.

Syed Humayun Akhter, from Dhaka University, said the capital could become “totally a dead city … it will be really devastating”.

“All the natural gas fields, heavy industries and electric power plants are located close to potential earthquakes, and they are likely to be destroyed,” Dr Akhter said. “In Dhaka, the catastrophic picture will be beyond our imagination, and could even lead to abandonment of the city.”

The warning extends not just to Bangladesh but also to Aizawl, the capital of India’s Mizoram state to the north-east, which could be subject to landslides in a major quake, Professor Steckler said.

Another risk is that the rivers themselves could change course, adding to the misery of those affected by the quake.

“If the ground moves by 10 metres, it’s entirely possible to get one to two metres of uplift [of land],” Professor Steckler said. “That can be enough to really rearrange the rivers” – as has happened in the past.

Authorities can reduce the future impact of a big quake by tightening building codes – only introduced in 1993 – and enforcing them, he said.

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Jan 102013

Dhaka, Jan 10, 2013: A cold snap which saw temperatures drop to 40-year lows in Bangladesh has killed around 80 people, officials said.

Shah Alam, the deputy head of the weather office, said the lowest temperature was recorded at 3 degrees Celsius in the northern town of Syedpur.

He said the last time the temperature dropped below that level was in February 1968 when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan.

“The temperature is the lowest in Bangladesh’s history,” he said.

The Red Crescent said hospitals were packed with patients suffering respiratory illness.

The society’s general-secretary Abu Bakar said impoverished rural areas had been worst hit as many people could not afford warm clothing or heating.

“They are not prepared for such extreme weather. Many could not even go to work,” he said.

“According to the reports of our district offices and local administrations, about 80 people have died due to cold-related diseases such as respiratory problems, pneumonia and cough.”

Bangladesh, which is a tropical country, normally sees temperatures fall to around 10 degrees Celsius at this time of year.

The weather office said temperatures were expected to rise from Saturday.


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Jan 092013

 Dhaka, Jan 9, 2013: Bone chilling cold slows the wheels of life in Bangladesh on Wednesday as the mercury dipped to all-time record low between 3.2 and 5 degrees Celsius.

Normal life almost halted across the country especially in the sub-Himalayan northern region, officials and local sources said. Even the foreign visitors, who are accustomed to live with bellow zero degree temperatures, are terming the weather as acute cold.”

“I am habituated with minus two or three degree temperatures, which are far bellow the today’s temperature in Dhaka. But I feel it bites more. I can’t understand why,” visiting Italian citizen Suzanna Telese, who is now in Dhaka for business purpose, told this correspondent Wednesday.

Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) said, “Blowing cooler winds from the northwestern directions severely deteriorated the weather forcing most people to stay indoors.”

BMD says the previous lowest minimum temperature recorded 3.9 degrees Celsius in 1955, when the country was a part of Pakistan. Shah Alam, a senior meteorologist, said, “Murcury plunged to its lowest 3.2 degrees Celsius in the northern Dinajpur district (some 338 km northwest of capital Dhaka).”

“Temperature drops abnormally,” said Alam. The department recorded Dhaka’s temperatures at 7.2 degrees Celsius Wednesday which is also lowest since 1964 when it was 5.6 degrees Celsius in the capital city of the about 15 million people.

Sky over the capital Dhaka and most parts of the country remained cloudy for the last couple of days while cars and buses are running by switching on headlights in day time on many Dhaka streets.

Hundreds of floating people, mainly street children and elderly persons, of the impoverished country are been facing hard time due to the cold spell. The freezing weather may continue for two to three days, BMD sources said.

The day- and farm- labourers could hardly work in their respective field to earn livelihoods amid biting cold though the fogs that covered the air since Monday night, mostly disappeared by 12 noon for a couple of hours at most places.

The number of pneumonia, fever, diarrhoea, asthma and respiratory problem patients marked rise and doctors in hospitals and health complexes were found to be very busy.

Coldest temperatures in 57 years in Bangladesh have also been blamed on more intense cold fronts resulting from global warming that has reportedly melted polar ice.

“Extreme events are on the rise throughout the world and they will continue to increase further due to global warming,”said Aninun Nishat, an environment specialist.

“We’re part of the world. So, we’re also feeling here the pinch of the global worming,” he said, adding many countries including India and China in this part of the world are also experiencing unusual chills this winter.

He said extreme global warming impacts including water stress, shrinking glaciers, rising sea level, regional disturbances in rainfall patterns, and increased frequency and intensity of fires and heat waves, have also been underway in Australia, New Zealand and many other countries.

Experts say Bangladesh, situated by the Bay of Bengal, has become more vulnerable in recent years to natural disasters as its capacity to protect its people and land is very feeble.

Tornado and cyclones, killing hundreds of people every year, are common in this calamity-prone South Asian country of about 153 million people whose per capita income is still less than 850 U.S. dollars.


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Dec 302012

CHITTAGONG, Dec 30, 2012: Over 500 litres of oil spilled into the Bay after an oil tanker collided with a water vessel at the estuary of the Karnaphuli River this morning.

Chittagong Port sources said the oil slick began after a hole was created on oil tanker “Nosihat” when it collided with a private vessel “Western Cruise” near Boat Club in the river Karnafuli around 6 am.

CP secretary Syed Farhad Uddin said over one Kilometre area was affected due to the spill which was cleaned up by oil cleaning vessel ‘Bay Cleaning-2 of Chittagong Port Authority.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) also sent another oil tanker to the spot to transfer the oil from the vessel.

No crewmembers of the tanker were reported to be injured, Farhad added.

The oil tanker was going to Chandpur with diesel and kerosene from an oil depot of Jamuna Oil Company Ltd near Chittagong port area.

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Dec 242012

Dhaka, Dec 24: Bangladesh Bank on Monday asked all commercial banks and financial institutions (FIs) of the country to stand beside the poor people who are worst sufferers in the cold spell.

The central bank issued a circular asking the banks and FIs to immediately distribute warm clothes and blankets to cold-hit destitute across the country as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The circular, which was sent to the chief executives of all the banks and FIs, said it was necessary to help the poor as a severe cold wave is sweeping the country.

BB governor Dr Atiur Rahman has also urged the bankers personally to stand beside the cold stricken people, national news agency BSS says in a report.

“Helping the cold affected poor people is a social responsibility of banks and financial institutions,” Governor Dr Atiur Rahman said, adding that as these institutions do businesses with the money of the people, they must invest in social sector.

Atiur said cold spell is affecting life in different areas, including northern districts, southwestern region. People who are living in the areas surrounded by rivers, are worst suffers and banks and financial institutions should help these people, he added.

People of low-income group, especially farm workers, rickshaw pullers and those living under the open sky on roadsides or in makeshift houses have become the worst sufferers in the ongoing cold spell. A mild cold spell with thick fog is affecting life life in different northern districts – Rajshahi, Natore, Pabna, Bogra, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon and Panchagarh – and southwestern region of the country over the last couple of days.

Meteorological Department said temperatures have dropped in Rajshahi division on Saturday after mild cold wave started drifting over Ishwardi, Jessore and Chuadanga.

The weather forecast for this month said one or two mild (ranging from 8 to 10 degrees Celsius) or moderate (6 to 8 degrees Celsius) cold waves will affect the country’s north, north-eastern and central regions by the end of December.

Media reports say the people in the north are suffering cold-related maladies as the temperature keeps dropping every day.

The BB circular also ordered the banks to provide financial support for poor students as part of their corporate social responsibility.

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Sep 072012

News - Climate change a mixed blessing for wheat, say expertsDhaka, Sept 8: Climate change may have a profound effect on the world’s ability to produce wheat — one of its staple crops — and adaptation efforts must take into account both the positive and negative effects of climate shifts, say wheat experts.

Production in some regions, such as India and Mexico, is predicted to be negatively affected by climate change, according to Thomas Lumpkin, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

But, in other regions, such as northern China, production may benefit from warmer winters, reports UNB.

“Both high temperatures and reduced rainfall will be more common, and wheat will be the most severely affected major crop,” Lumpkin told SciDev.Net on the sidelines of the 2012 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshop in China this month (1—4 September).

Despite several years of record South Asian harvests, global weather patterns appear to be changing, and regional food shortages may cause political upheaval, Lumpkin said.

Bangladesh has seen its wheat production area and yields reduce dramatically, as a consequence of a heat stress caused by climate change, and the current US drought has led to rising food prices, likely to stir up social unrest, according to Lumpkin.

“We already have evidence that high wheat prices in 2008 helped stimulate the ‘Arab Spring’ events in Libya, Egypt and Syria,” Lumpkin said.

Ravi Prakash Singh, head of CIMMYT’s Irrigated Bread Wheat Improvement and Rust Research programme, agreed: “Each country will need to invest more in agriculture, otherwise food shortages can lead to social unrest, as seen in recent years in some countries”.

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Aug 152012

Two ships sold by state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to scrap yards in Pakistan and Bangladesh contained hazardous materials, a violation of both Mexican and international law, an environmental group said.

“The arrival of these obsolete vessels, the Sebastian and the De Marz, in South Asia without notice and without first being pre-cleaned of the tons of hazardous materials built into each ship is a clear violation of the UN Basel Convention and Mexican law,” Basel Action Network, or BAN, said in a statement.

BAN monitors compliance with the Basel Convention on the transborder shipment of hazardous wastes.

“Mexico has violated its own laws and international law. In accordance with Mexico’s obligations under the Basel Convention, these toxic ships must be repatriated immediately,” BAN Green Ship Recycling Campaign director Colby Self said. “The governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan must be told to return the ships and under no circumstances allow them to be scrapped on their beaches.”

The environmental watchdog group said it first contacted the Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat in October 2010 to warn officials that Pemex planned to sell the obsolete vessels to foreign salvage yards.

“At that time, the government replied, stating that they had intervened to block the sale of three Pemex tankers and imposed restrictions on Pemex’s future sales to prevent the illegal export of the vessels,” BAN said.

The environmental group notified the government on April 6 that Pemex planned once again to sell the ships on the grounds that the vessels would continue to be used for maritime purposes.

Pemex’s move was “an apparent attempt to bypass the Basel Convention rules on disposal of hazardous waste,” BAN said.

“Nevertheless, Mexican officials disregarded BAN’s warning and allowed the vessels to depart for alleged re-use, only to sail directly to Pakistan and Bangladesh for scrapping last month,” the Seattle-based environmental group said.

“BAN is now calling on the newly elected Mexican Government to take immediate corrective action by repatriating the two vessels to Mexico,” the environmental watchdog group said.

Neither the Environment Secretariat nor Pemex have responded officially to the allegations made by the environmental group.