Dhaka, the most populous city of Bangladesh, sits on the Ganges River Delta, a massive wetland spilling into the Bay of Bengal. Severe flooding events are becoming more frequent and water sources are contaminated. The added pressure of sea level rise will force the people of Dhaka to adapt, putting more financial burden on a country with few resources. 

Earth.org has mapped what extreme flooding could look like in Dhaka by the end of the century. 

Dhaka is the financial and commercial capital of Bangladesh, accounting for 35% of its economic activity. Bounded by the Buriganga, Turag, Daleshwari and Shitalakshya Rivers, it was once called the “Venice of the East”. The original settlement was concentrated on heights, like the Madhupur terrace, but newer districts are now built on flood-prone areas. 

Natural channels used to form a natural drainage network throughout the city, warranting its title of “Venice of the East”, or “City of Channels”. Leading to the surrounding rivers, these depressions were vital to draining excess downpour out of Dhaka. However, exceptionally severe floods in 1988 and 1998, along with a population explosion from 2 to 8 million inhabitants, changed the river-harmonious city planning into attempts to control the environment. Dams and embankments were built for flood protection, cutting off lower wetlands while the remaining water bodies were filled to accommodate urban expansion. 

Having done away with natural drainage systems, today’s artificial flood control systems are barely sufficient, and water reserves are contaminated with disease and industrial waste. Rising sea levels must be prepared against, but poor city planning and continual expansion makes it difficult to adapt.

In order to illustrate the looming threat, Earth.Org has modelled what strong flooding would look like when combined with sea level rise by the year 2100.

Sea Level Rise 2100 Dhaka

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 3m; extreme = 5m). Percentage and total population displacement indicated bottom right.

Methodology

Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 2m at the end of this century. However, in order to determine local sea level rise (SLR), one has to take into account local coastal flood levels which could be 2.8m above Mean Higher-High Water (MHHW) at extreme forecasts. These local levels bring variability to the projected SLR from 1m to 6.5m (eg. Rio vs Kolkata).

The SLR scenarios used in this study are based on the forecasts from Climate Central – Coastal Risk Screening Tool  with the following parameters:

Sea level Projection Source: is from two highly cited journals by Kopp et al., estimating SLR mainly due to ocean thermal expansion and ice melt. The mid-range scenario projected 0.5-1.2m of SLR based on different representative concentration pathways (RCP) defined by the IPCC. While the pessimistic scenario added more mechanisms of ice-sheet melting, estimating SLR at 1m-2.5m in 2100, with projection of 10m SLR at 2300.

Coastal Flooding: More frequent coastal flooding is a direct impact of sea-level rise. Based on the Global tides and surge reanalysis by Muis et al., (2016), it is estimated that the extreme coastal water level could be from 0.2 – 2.8m over mean level. While in extreme cases like China and the Netherlands it could experience 5-10m of extreme sea levels. Here, the coastal local flood level is added on top of the projected SLR.

Pollution Scenario: allows to choose the RCP, the greenhouse gas concentration trajectory defined by the IPCC.  The mild level is based on RCP4.5, of 2°C temperature rise; while Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.

Luck: applies to the the baseline SLR, defined in the “Sea level projection” section, upon which we add flooding. “Mild” refers to the mid-range scenario of 0.5-1.2m, and “extreme” to the pessimistic scenario of 1-2.5m. We used the high-end value of each scenario (mild = 1m; extreme = 2.5m).

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