Even though most of the adult Bangladeshis never heard of climate change, Bangladeshi community abroad, specially Bangladeshi community in New York in general, expressed their happiness when Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, was awarded ‘Champions of the Earth’. The prize was given in recognition of her policy leadership to Bangladesh environment, such as, drafting Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, creating Climate Change Trust Fund, earmarking money for climate change adaptation, amending constitution to protect the environment, etc.
To celebrate the event, supporters of Sheikh Hasina in USA have advertised their happiness in the local Bangla newspapers, displayed on posters, distributed in flyers, aired on TVs, conveyed by statements, and finally gave the Prime Minister a public reception in New York while she was in the city to attend 70th General Secretariat meeting of United Nations.
After Dr. Atiq Rahman, who got the UN environmental prize in 2008, Sheikh Hasina is the second Bangladeshi to win the award. On the eve of the event, the Prime Minister also wrote an article on Huffington Post about her government’s response to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Bangladeshi political leaders usually do not write. Therefore, this writing effort in an international media was nice, noteworthy, rare and long overdue.
Although overall Environmental Performance Index for Bangladesh is very poor (169 out of 178), any award given as a recognition is a big motivation for Bangladesh. Indeed, Bangladesh has been doing whatever it can do slowly to improve environmental condition and fight climate change with its limited resources. Plastic bag ban, boat school, solar panels, etc. are few examples.
But they are certainly not enough. Bangladesh has to do more and do it quick to prepare the country for climate change. Hope the Prime Minister will consider the award not as a reward for her past achievement but a future motivation to do more.
Now what for Bangladeshi community abroad?
Besides being happy what Bangladeshi community can do? It is very possible for Bangladeshi community to be active abroad, to be a vanguard of protecting environment of Bangladesh. As a pressure group, they can easily keep the PM on her toes to do more. Even with some improvements, Bangladesh is still facing many environmental degradation each day. Many environmental issues got international attention, such as, ship breaking industry in Chittagong, oil spill in the Sundarbans, Rampal coal-based power plant, tannery pollution at Hazaribagh, etc. Between development and climate change, keeping environment clean is a hard choice in conventional sense, but Bangladesh has to do its part to be active and innovative.
Bangladeshi community living abroad themselves can act as a role model as environmental champion. Here are some thoughts:
- Select and celebrate a day each year as ‘Bangladesh Environment Day’ within the community. Encourage the new generation of Bangladeshis to plan, organize and implement the event. Join the event as one community. Organize environment-friendly street fairs, environmental picnics, join in neighborhood clean-ups etc.
- Countless Bangladeshi regional and community associations are formed abroad. They can adopt a clause into their constitutions to protect environment and designate a person (an Environment Secretary like General Secretary!) to work on the issue. Even if it is not serious enough, doing it diligently could prove a great fun! Celebrate Earth Day each year as Bangladesh community do for Bangladesh Independence Day, Chadni Raat (pre-Eid night) etc.
- Join local environmental groups and/or participate in activities. Get informed, educated, connected and committed. Work as a pressure group and lobby home and abroad to protect the environment of Bangladesh. Last year, only two Bangladeshi organizations joined the People’s Climate March in New York! Will they miss this year too!
Indeed, some Bangladeshi groups are active in environmental issues abroad. Bangladesh Environmental Network (BEN) has been organizing meeting and seminars to inform about the environment for more than a decade. Recently, a Bangladeshi youth group – Youth Congress of Bangladeshi-American – has taken an initiative to stop using plastic bag in New York. Phulbari Day was observed in UK by Bangladeshi community to protest coal mining in Bangladesh. These are few examples of activities but they are still a drop of water in a ocean if one thinks about Bangladesh’s stake due to climate change (PDF).
To conclude, is there a way Bangladeshi community abroad can lead the way, innovate the path, motivate the expatriates do more to protect and improve the environment of Bangladesh? Is it possible for the Bangladeshi community abroad to be the next Champion of the Earth?