Environmental Security: Bangladesh

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 November 2016

Environmental Security: Bangladesh


While reading International Relations I got acquainted with many contemporary issues which are really important to deal with for the competitive survival of Bangladesh in this age of globalization. Bangladesh is a developing country. It has to perform very carefully in order to continue a healthy and sustainable economic system. Bangladesh suffers from both internal and external threats which are both military and non-military. Among them Environmental Security (ES) is a matter of great importance. Because environmental calamities are great threat to economic development and are means of creating dependency on the donor countries. It is also controlling relation between states and also creating tension between them. So, time has come to take this issue more significantly and take necessary steps accordingly. This research paper contains how environment is having power over the matters of our country; creating balance of relationship with the donor countries; and what Bangladesh should do in order to overcome the problems to establish better economics.


In order to provide a valid research paper, I have taken information from the lecture shits given by the department of International Relations. Internet has been a great source of information which I have mentioned in the part of bibliography. Moreover I have taken information from BANGLADESH: Non-traditional security, By Jyoti M. Pathania, and used speeches of George Kennan, Collin Powell in some relevant area. I am grateful to Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmed (Chairman, Governing Council, Dhaka School of Economics (DScE); Chairman, Governing Body, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation). He has given me some clear view of the issue of Environmental Security. I have used some information in this research paper from his presentation on The Outcome OF Cancun Climate Change Conference (COP-16) and Bangladesh. My work has also been encouraged by Dr. jashim Uddin, General Manager, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, who has great experience in the field of development in Bangladesh.

1.0 Introduction

There have been two approaches to Security Studies: 1) Traditional Approach, i.e., Realist Approach and Non-traditional Approach, i.e., i) Widening Approach and ii) Deepening Approach. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been renewed interest in what is now called ‘non-traditional’ security issues. Among the non-traditional approach to security studies, the widening approach includes that states are functionally like units; states are not like units in terms of capability/power. Some are strong and some are weak. Inter-state relationship is governed by this power differentiation. As a result, anarchy is the ordering principle of international politics.

States are bound to adapt to this anarchic system for their survival. However, in widening approach the referent object of security is state; state wants to secure state sovereignty, physical base of state (territory, resources and population) and political system. It simply includes a wide range of non-military threats to state security: both external and internal and military and non-military. The Environmental Security can be referred to this non-traditional approach of security, which is an internal and external non-military threat to a state that causes huge loss to the physical base of a state, demolishes economic situation and threats the sovereignty of state in this age of globalization.

Hence the Environmental Security has become a matter of great importance in today’s world. Environmental security involves assessing the ways in which the quality of environmental systems relate to or impact the overall health and well-being of a state or society. It also refers to the relative protection of the environment from injury or degradation by manmade or natural processes due to accident, negligence, ignorance, or design from causes that cross national borders and endanger the livelihood or health of humans, the functional integrity of a state, or the stability of the international community.

Most environmental threats to national and international security can be traced to man’s activities interfering into natural processes or the natural ecosystem. Some serious threats, however, may have natural origins, but become exacerbated from man’s activities. Examples of these include hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

Environmental Security (ES) is a matter of great importance since it also controls international relations between states. As late as 1985, the old cold warrior George Kennan Wrote in foreign affairs:

Affairs concerning international relations and national interests in foreign countries. , identifying the threat to the world environment as one of the two supreme dangers facing mankind. But it was really in the post Cold War era that the world saw a dramatic increase in international activity around environmental issues. The United Nations Environmental Program has reported that about 170 treaties have been negotiated in recent years on various issues of the global environment. (1)

2.0 Importance of ES can be understood further by the following statement:

“Few threats to peace and survival of the human community are greater than those posed by the prospects of cumulative and irreversible degradation of the biosphere on which human life depends. True security cannot be achieved by mounting buildup of weapons (defence in a narrow sense), but only by providing basic conditions for solving non-military problems which threatens them. Our survival depends not only on military balance, but on global cooperation to ensure a sustainable environment.” Brundtland Commission Report, 1987

In 1999, Collin Powell stressed the importance of ES saying:

“Sustainable development is a compelling moral and humanitarian issue, but it is also a security imperative. Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers of people, of society, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilize countries, even entire regions.”

We are dependant upon the globe’s life-supporting eco-systems generating water, food, medicine, and clean air etc, but we actually did nothing to maintain this ecosystem. As a result the current and future generations will confront severe environmentally induced changes. The change has already started and is testing our traditional concepts and understandings of security, both national and beyond boundaries. In many cases conflicts are direct results of environmental degradation. Another important dimension of Environmental security is that it knows no state boundary. It affects humankind and its institutions and organizations anywhere and at anytime, which cannot be defended by any means of military defense or political negotiation.

3.0 VARIOUS INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS international relations, study of the relations among states and other political and economic units in the international system. Particular areas of study within the field of international relations include diplomacy and diplomatic history, international law, ….. Click the link for more information.


A number of International Relations Theories can be applied to the issue of environment. Many of these theories only deal with the environment indirectly, yet it is useful to review the expanding literature of international-relations theory as it relates to the environment.

Realism: The two central concepts of Realist theory are power and the national interest. The international society is an anarchical state-system. The system is therefore a self-help one. Realism assumes that states and their populations need natural resources to survive. There is a competition between states for these scarce resources. War is often the result of such competition and conflict. It leads to “the struggle for power and peace,” as Hans Morgenthau put it.


Extreme versions of Realism such as the geopolitical some see President George Bush’s intervention in Iraq as an attempt to secure the oil resources of the Middle East.

3.1 Malthusianism:

Thomas Malthus, an 18th century English cleric, believed that because population grew in geometric progression and food production followed arithmetic progression, there would come a time when population growth would inevitably outstrip and will cause starvation. Thus it will threat the socio-economic security of a nation.

3.2 Liberalism:

Liberalism focuses on cooperation. While liberalism sees people and states competing for scarce environmental resources, it does so in a more orderly way. Thus, “a liberal philosophy applied to global environmental politics tends to treat states as competitive participants–not unlike corporations–in markets they have established among themselves.” (8)

Private enterprise and the market produce efficiency and save nature. For example, the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 forbids states from inflicting environmental damage on each other, because this would be a violation of the state’s sovereignty.

3.3 Institutionalism:

This approach also focuses on cooperation. Here the states have a broader sense of self-interest. They focus on the public good. Their enlightened self-interest includes norms, values, principles and expectations which are the ingredients of International Regimes. The states seek mutually acceptable compromises through international negotiation. The building of International Regimes can benefit the global environment. The Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a good example of international regimes.

3.4 Ecoanarchism:

This philosophy is humanistic and leftist, and Murray Bookchin is its leading proponent. Ecoanarchists believe that “the state and ‘big’ capital are inimical to the autonomy of humans and nature.” (9) Thus to preserve nature it is necessary to break society into “small, relatively self-sufficient units.” To help nature these units must practice altruism and mutual aid.

3.5 Social Naturalism:

This view sees “culture and nature as bound together” in a kind of social community. Community is used in a very broad sense that includes people, animals, plants, ideas, language, history and the ecosystems. Cooperation between humans and nature is a given. The objective of social naturalism is “the creation of a cooperative ecological society found to be rooted in the most basic levels of being.” (10) This philosophy strongly resembles the worldview.

3.6 Sustainable Growth:

The growth of incomes results in economic development. As the 1990s World Bank President Barber Conable put it: “market forces and economic efficiency were the best way to achieve the kind of growth which is the best antidote to poverty.” (12) So according to the neoclassical economist’s dictum “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy. The proponents of this theory believe that when the poor of the developing countries become richer then it will reduce pressure on the environment. For example, they will be more able and willing to pay the costs of keeping air and water clean. (13)

3.7 Sustainable Development:

This phrase first appeared in a 1980 report issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) or World Conservation Union, international organization founded in 1948 to encourage the preservation of wildlife, natural environments, and living resources. (14) This approach focuses on the “needs” of the world’s poor and calls for a sufficient transfer of wealth from the rich countries to the poor, so that the developing countries can deal with the problem of poverty and environmental damage.

3.8 The Steady-State Economy:

Herman Daly proposed this alternative approach which focuses not on more goods, but on the durability and longevity of goods. More goods are wasteful and cause environmental degradation. It calls for recycling and the minimal exploitation of biological and physical resources. Daly’s unit is the nation-state, and each country must seek to be self-sufficient and spend only its own natural resources. (15)

3.9 Radical Redistribution:

This theory believes that environmental degradation is the result of excessive wealth, the injustices of capitalism and the income inequality between the rich and the poor nations. In 2005, a typical American consumed 51 times as much energy as a typical Bangladeshi. (16) Consequently, two things need to be done. First, the rich must drastically reduce their consumption so as not to burden the earth’s resources and environment. Second, the rich much transfer massive amounts of capital and technology so that the poor countries can grow economically and preserve the environment.

3.10 Ecosocialism and Eco-Marxism:

Not surprisingly, ecosocialists and ecomarxists blame capitalism for environmental degradation. Capitalism is seen as inherently anti-ecological and anti-nature. For seeking cheaper raw materials and fatter profits they impose wastes onto nature. Thus the mode of production matters for the environment. They “emphasize people’s collective power as producers, which directly involve local communities (particularly urban) and increase democracy, which enlist the labour movement and which are aimed particularly at economic life.” (17)

3.11 Ecofeminism:

Although many ecofeminists are not Marxists, they are all leftists or liberal in their philosophical orientation. For ecofeminists “the domination of women and nature are inextricably linked.” (18) “Feminine suffering is universal because wrong done to women and its ongoing denial fuel the psycho-sexual abuse of all Others–races, children, animals, plants, rocks, water, and air.” (19)

3.12 Ecocentrism:

Ecocentrists believe that humans cannot survive without nature. Many ecocentrists are advocates of wilderness or “wildness.” As Henry David Thoreau noted: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (20)

3.13 Biopolitics:

The origins of biopolitics can be found in the writings of Michel Foucault. According to Mitchell Dean, a follower of Foucault, biopolitics “is concerned with matters of life and death, with birth and propagation, with health and illness, both physical and mental, and with the processes that sustain or retard the optimization of the life of a population.” (21)

These are some of the basic environmental philosophies that take to mean the global environment and structure practices and policies. Many of these conflict with one another and have diverse explanation of the reasons for environmental degradation.

4.0 A case of Bangladesh:

The first part of this research paper dealt with the security agenda and the philosophies involving ES. Scarcities of renewable resources can generate civil violence and conflict; the degradation of renewable resources causes environmental insufficiency; powerful groups take over precious resources while trivial groups move around to ecologically sensitive areas. Moreover environmental scarcity proves the difference between social groups. Such situation affects governmental institutions and states by making it economically weak. Even environmental scarcity can cause ethnic conflicts. Accordingly the International community can be indirectly affected by these conflicts produced by environmental scarcity. (22)

In the second part I will focus on Bangladesh regarding the issues of environment security. Ours is a country which has to face both external and internal, and military and non military threats. Bangladesh achieved its independence through a devastating war against Pakistan which resulted millions of death and around ten million refugees to India. Even after the war Bangladesh has been facing military threat from the Shanti Bahini of Chittagong Hill Track (CHT).

Guerrilla warfare between the rebels and armed force of the government in CHT and civil conflicts between the Bengali and Non-Bengali residents of this place continue till today. The most recent armed conflict between the Bengali and Non-Bengali residents happened on 19th January 2011; where 6 (six) were killed. Such situation threatens the stability of a state. Circumstances become more vulnerable when environmental degradation doubles the pain. The independent Bangladesh has been facing environmental calamity since 1974. In 1974 famine raged over and was further aggravated by a flood. Later on, the degradation only increased and in recent years Bangladesh has seen devastating cyclones and floods.

The security of Bangladesh must depend on sustainable environment in many ways. Environmental degradation will badly affect economic development, erode social cohesion. Even political institutions face threat. Population growth and lack of economic opportunity will cause demographic displacement both within the country and outside. Migration in other country can cause bilateral conflict Bangladesh is also bearing the result of environmental problems of neighbor countries.

Such situation in water sector is already exacerbating regional tension with India. It can lead to harmful progress towards regional security and can instigate regional cooperation on the other hand. We have to remember that the linkage of environment and security in Bangladesh is through economics and politics. The greater the environmental degradation in Bangladesh the greater will be the political and economic deterioration, thus leading to more national and international insecurity.


Bangladesh posses a horde of security problems, which are no longer of conventional nature but have non-conventional nature i.e. Non-traditional security issues which are in the state of constant evolution. These are economic, environmental, political and territorial threats.

5.1 Population

The greatest problem that Bangladesh faces is an unusually large population in a small land area. The population grew from 42 million in 1951 to about 147 million in 2005. (23) It is projected to reach 166 million in 2015. (24) The population density is 1019 per square kilometer. When one compares this with 2 persons per sq. km. in Australia, 3 in Canada, 31 in USA, 191 in Pakistan and 324 in India, one becomes aware of the tremendous crush of population in Bangladesh. The faster the population increases, the more would be the negative effects on its environment. Zero population growth could serve for the environment in Bangladesh.

5.2 Land and Soil

As noted earlier, Bangladesh covers a small area of only 144,000 square kilometers, but 63% of the total land is arable because it is located in the largest delta in the world. Formed by the three mighty rivers–the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Meghna–it is also “the youngest and the most active delta in the world.” (27) Although Bangladesh is a flat alluvial plain, it does have complex soil condition and land pattern.

Erosion of land by rivers is a serious problem in Bangladesh. Every year due to strong summer winds, powerful waves and shifting rivers thousands of acres of land are eroded away, leaving thousands of families homeless and contributing to the pattern of wholesale migration towards the urban areas, mainly to the capital city Dhaka. But it only creates instability in the society.

5.3 Deforestation

Many decades ago Bangladesh had rich tropical forests. But due to population growth and the need for firewood and timber, the forests have become rapidly depleted. Currently the forest area comprises 13,000 square kilometers, about 10.2% of the total land space, which is much less than the universally accepted minimum of 25%. (28) Located in the southwest of Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is a mangrove, large tropical evergreen tree, genus Rhizophora that grows on muddy tidal flats and along protected ocean shorelines. It is the home for of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger as well as other rich flora and fauna.

The United Nations has declared the Sundarbans as a world heritage site because of its rich biodiversity. Besides, the tropical rain forests in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, home to high value timber, rich vegetation and wild animals. Many animals are being rapidly depleted due to demand from both agriculture and industry. The Chokoria Sundarbans in the southeastern part of the country near the port-city Chittagong were completely destroyed in the 1980s and 1990s in order to facilitate shrimp farming.

5.4 Drought & Floods

It is ironic that during the monsoon season Bangladesh has too much water and during the winter months too little water when no rainfall occurs. Thus the country is subject to both floods and drought. Barendra Bhumi of the northern part of our country is an example for drought affect. Because of drought people are unable to continue agricultural work and suffer from monga (unemployment). It also causes huge migration towards the capital city and other cities. Heavy drought also causes desertification in this area.

On the other hand, in the rainy season Bangladesh suffers from too much water. About 1360 billion cubic meters of water is discharged annually through the GBM system, 93% of which flows through Bangladesh. If all the water did not flow into the sea, the country had been under 32 feet of water. The 230 rivers with their numerous creeks and rivulets attempt to drain the water into the Bay of Bengal But the situation of rivers, the low river gradients in the flat plain and strong backwater effects slow the passage to the sea, giving rise to the overflowing of the riverbanks. Every year there are floods, in some years it becomes extreme due to extra heavy rainfall.

5.5 Storms & Cyclones

Bangladesh faces huge destruction due to storms and cyclones. The cyclones mainly hit the coastal region. Several severe cyclones emerge from the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. The funnel shape of the Bay increases the intensity, often blowing in excess of 240 km per hour and creating tidal bores 9 km high. One of the worst cyclones occurred on November 12, 1970, killing an estimated 300 hundred thousand people in addition to major damage to livestock, poultry, crops and vegetation. (30) The most recent examples can be SIDR (2007) and AILA (2009).


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 20 November 2016

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