U.S. military grasps effects of the rising tide

The report also concluded that the U.S. military partnerships should tap into the unique expertise of partner nations when building its global alliance.

“The reality of climate change has forced itself on the U.S. military agenda,” said Marc Genest, a professor at the Naval War College who organized the exercise.

The Dhaka government has taken the threat of flooding seriously, spending more than $10 billion, including international aid, in the last 35 years to disaster-proof the country. When cyclones or flooding strikes, as is often the case, Bangladeshis are sent to storm shelters that dot the coastline and low-lying regions.

In 1991, a cyclone killed 140,000 people. But before cyclone Sidr hit in 2007, about 2 million people were sent into the concrete, elevated structures shaped like arrowheads to cut the fierce winds. As a result, only about 3,500 people were killed.

More than half of the Bangladeshi army is engaged in disaster relief operations at any given time, Brig. Gen. Abul Basher Imamuzzaman, commandant at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training, said.

saber

Saber Hossain Chowdhury says as climate change intensifies storms and natural disasters, the military will have to come forward to help. (Click to watch the video)

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a member of the Bangladeshi Parliament who heads a panel on climate change, said the threats on the horizon call for a far stronger alliance between Dhaka and other foreign militaries.

The Obama administration has a “new emphasis” on building capacities of militaries of nations to contribute to security across broader regions, including South Asia, according to Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.

President Barack Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy said that “a changing climate portends a future in which the United States must be better prepared and resourced to exercise robust leadership to help meet critical humanitarian needs.’’

Already the U.S. military has moved quickly to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to weak and vulnerable nations of the world, including Bangladesh.

Pacific Commander Adm. Robert Willard told Congress in March that “we respond to natural disasters about every 60 days” in the region.

In a broader context, many senior military leaders have traveled to Bangladesh in the last year. The U.S. Navy already routinely trains with the Bangladeshi military in exercises like Cope South 2010, which concluded in September, where the two forces exchanged airlift and airdrop delivery techniques to respond better to regional disasters. More exercises are lined up in coming months.

Earlier this year, the Coast Guard gave Bangladesh 21 defender class search-and-rescue boats and plans to provide three ambulance boats worth a total of $10.5 million.

But some say climate change as a national security threat has yet to trickle down to the operational and planning level.

“You may see it come out at a war game in the war college or being discussed in academic circles,” said Donohue. But, he added, “It’s not the issue of the day.”

Cmdr. Blake McBride, who is working with the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, which released a Climate Change Roadmap, said the Navy has begun the planning process.

“The U.S. Navy is currently conducting assessments and studies necessary to incorporate climate change into future plans. To facilitate this process we have developed extensive partnerships within the federal government, academia and other countries.” said McBride.

Some, however, argue that the U.S. military must remain focused on its primary mission – fighting wars.

Paul Hughes, a senior conflict analysis program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the Agency for International Development and Department of State should take the lead on building alliances to establish a global response to security threats posed by climate change.

“If I were a senator or member of Congress I would say give USAID or DOS the money,’’ Hughes said.

In their current joint military maneuvers, the U.S. and Bangladesh are focusing on what they say are current issues in the region–counter terrorism, port security, smuggling and drug trafficking.

“This is a very, very elementary level of cooperation,” Muniruzzaman said. The Obama administration is “in the very early stages of the realization of the problem. But they will have to move in fast because we have lost some very critical time and space.”

This story also appeared in McClatchy newspapers: Climate-induced mayhem likely to start in Bangladesh

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