Asia Crisis

INTERVIEW-Bangladesh fears rising seas "devastating"

* Bangladesh fears "devastating" impacts of rising seas

* Climate change could mean millions of refugees

TROMSOE, Norway, April 29 (Reuters) - Low-lying Bangladesh risks devastating impacts from rising world sea levels caused by climate change with risks that millions will be forced from their homes this century, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said.

She told Reuters that rich nations would have to help the densely populated country of 150 million people, possibly by opening their borders to environmental refugees.

Bangladesh faces threats from cyclones from the Bay of Bengal and floods inland along the vast mouth of the Ganges River.

"Bangladesh is going to be one of the worst affected countries as it is a low-lying delta," she said on the sidelines of a two-day conference on melting ice and the Arctic Council in Tromsoe, north Norway.

"As one of the most densely populated in the world, (climate change) is going to be unbearable almost for the country, for the people. It's going to be devastating," she said.

The government was working on a plan targeting better food security, social protection and health, disaster management, better infrastructure, research and a shift to greener technologies.

But there were limits to Bangladesh's ability to cope with global warming stoked by emissions of greenhouse gases in other countries from factories, power plants and cars.

"It's already a very densely populated country so moving people inland -- how many can you do? So...the world will have to come together and decide how should we accommodate these people who will be environmental refugees," she said.

"Our people are known to be very hard working...they are already working as migrant workers all over the world and contributing to many economies of the world. Maybe the world will have to think about taking some of these people and relocating them?" she said.

"This is not an official plan, but we have to be open in our thinking about how to accommodate these people. We are talking about huge numbers," she said.

She added that the problem of climate refugees was also an issue for many other low-lying states and not the focus of government work. River deltas are hard to shore up against rising seas.

The U.N. Climate Panel projected in 2007 world sea levels would rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7-23 inches) this century, but omitted risks of an accelerating melt of Greenland or Antartcica.

The Panel listed Bangladesh among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Millions of people live less than a metre above sea level. And from 1980 to 2000, 60 percent of 250,000 deaths worldwide from cyclones occurred in Bangladesh.

Moni said that rising seas and storms would bring more salinity to farmland, affecting crops and changing the types of fish able to survive.

"Climate change will give rise to more flooding, more cyclones, not just the frequency but the severity will be more. Bangladesh is already prone to natural calamities," she said.

She said that Bangladesh had a fund for adaptating to climate change worth $45 million and an international donor trust fund totalling $100 million.

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Editing by Janet McBride