- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni warned Thursday that rising oceans from climate change could swallow up to a third of her low-lying country and urged other nations to take action at an upcoming environmental summit to mitigate the damage.

“We are working with very limited resources, and we need support from the international community. We do have expectations for Copenhagen,” she said of the upcoming global conference on climate change.

Without any action “one-third of our land could go under water,” forcing 20 million people to flee their homes because of rising sea levels and increased flooding, she told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

President Obama will address the United Nations next week at a special one-day session focusing exclusively on climate change, his first speech to the world body.

That session, organized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is intended to lay the groundwork for the Copenhagen conference three months later to draft a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

“The very fact that more than 100 leaders from all around the world are gathered in one place - have you ever seen in climate-change negotiations that such a large number of heads of state are gathered together at one place at one day?” Mr. Ban told reporters Thursday in New York.

The climate session is scheduled one day before leaders begin delivering broader policy messages at the annual session of the 192-nation General Assembly.

Bangladesh “will be one of the worst victims” of climate change,” Ms. Moni said.

The World Bank released in July a list of the main environmental threats linked to climate change, many of which apply to Bangladesh. It is one of the most populated and poorest countries in the world, often subject to severe flooding, tornadoes and sea-level rises that are likely to worsen.

During her visit to Washington, Ms. Moni met Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to talk about trade and environmental issues.

“We had a very positive discussion. I believe that people are now more aware, and with the Obama administration there has been changes in the way people think about climate change,” Ms. Moni said.

The Bangladeshi government has initiated projects to fight the rise in sea levels, such as green belts around the coastal area and land reclamation on the sea. “We are too densely populated; we need to create space for people to live.”

Silt deposits flowing from rivers such as the Ganges and the Brahmaputra help mitigate the threat by creating more land in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh is growing annually at a rate of 7.7 square miles, according to the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services.

When asked about what sacrifices rapidly growing economies and heavy polluters China and India had to make for the Copenhagen summit, Ms. Moni said: “We need to find a balance between development and respect of the environment. We cannot ask these huge economies to stop now, but eventually their population will be affected. China is already putting a lot of effort into green energy.”

Ms. Moni is the first woman to be named foreign minister in Bangladesh, a country where nearly 90 percent of the population is Muslim.

“Bangladesh is a moderate, progressive Muslim country,” former Education Minister Osman Farruk, now a member of the opposition, said in a separate interview at The Times.

“The U.S. should try to promote a balanced approach to the region - not only to large countries such as India but to smaller countries in terms of trade and research.”

Bangladesh is unique among Muslim nations in that it is led by a woman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The opposition is also led by a woman, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

“We are a very religious people but in our culture, women do play a very big role in decision-making,” Ms. Moni said.

The Taliban and other radical Islamists’ habit of citing the Koran as a source to justify the bad treatment of women “is a complete misinterpretation of Islam. Education is for all. Seeking knowledge is even better than praying,” she said, also citing the Koran.

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