Facing climate change in Bangladesh: The way forward

A workshop for discussion was jointly taken by Friendship and ICCCAD, a concern of IUB, on Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 at Gulshan 2. The initiative was to establish talks on how Friendship, ICCAD and the local government, regarding how climate change disasters can be better dealt with in the marginalized char areas.

The event was named ‘Community Initiated Disaster Risk Reduction-CIDRR’ which is a concept experimented for several years both in northern and southern Bangladesh. It is tried and tested in hundreds of communities to reduce risk due to climate-induced disaster.

The discussion was preceded by a short documentary on Friendship, a prominent NGO dedicated to spreading dignity, hope and opportunity in the most remote and inaccessible char islands, riverbanks, and coastal banks of Bangladesh.

Kazi Amdadul Hoque, director of climate change adaptation and disaster management at Friendship, then opened the floor by elaborating on the predicaments which arise in the disaster-prone areas of Bangladesh. In response to such disasters, Friendship has adapted the Community Initiated Disaster Risk Reduction (CIDRR) approach, which aims to mitigate hazards by enhancing the capacity of the community to take initiatives independently through preparedness, responsiveness and resilient activities. The approach works by creating joint planning, shared responsibility, and continuous collaboration between NGO, community, and the local government.

Issues arose in the session regarding insufficient funds to tackle crisis effectively and work hand-in-hand with the local government.

In response, Kazi Amdadul Haque simply referred back to the CIDRR strategy saying, “Friendship works together with both the local government and the community, thus coordinating and integrating aid programs to expand the effectiveness and financial capacity as a whole to maximize benefit; a strategy which has worked very well so far and shown much fruition.”

International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), is an environmental research institute established in 2009. Keynote speakers in the event from ICCCAD included Dr M Feisal Rahman, research coordinator and Tania Ahmed, research officer.

They acknowledged some of the char areas most affected by flooding are Gaibandha, Kurigram, and cyclone, salinity and water-logging affected Satkhira and Patuakhali where Friendship experimented CIDRR approach. In such flood-prone areas, land hospitals and floating hospitals were set up by the NGO to aid the people affected. Construction methods and lifestyle practices are now in keeping with more climate-resilient methods, thereby vastly reducing if not eliminating the impacts of climate change effects.

Additionally, mangrove trees a mangrove afforestation project is also in place to prevent erosion and diminish cyclone damage in the country’s southern, mangrove regions. Water, sanitation and hygiene installations, awareness campaigns and training also prevent contamination of water bodies and support healthier lifestyles. People who lost land, property and livelihoods to floods were offered enrollment in entrepreneurship programs and alternative income-generating activities to recover losses. Moreover, the NGO also sat with the local government and the community members to map future course of action and possible solutions to mitigate probable risk and damage. Dr M Feisal Rahman conclusively defined that resilience is the adaptive capacity of the community which CIDRR aims to develop.

Dr M Feisal Rahman highlighted the importance of empowering ‘agency’ which he defined as the ability of people to make a free choice. He said that a community can be empowered by making individuals work in more interactive settings. He said field surveys prove that community members are more aware of their rights today and felt more confident to approach officials with their issues.

Several observations were made by Dr Saleemul Huq, director of ICCAD, who began by clearing distinguishing the impact from disaster impacts such as immediate floods and cyclones, and non-disaster impacts which comes in the form of slow emergencies like water-level rise. He said, “Bangladesh is a country which remains quite vulnerable to climate change. The government is well concerned about this as well as NGOs, but with that concern, we must also change how we conceptualize planning methods. Instead of reducing our vulnerability to disasters and non-disasters, our resilience towards such disasters should be given a higher priority.” He concluded with advice on how project funding should be raised beyond the expiry of project durations to sustain positive impact.

Key discussant Dr A Atiq Rahman, executive director at Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, pressed on how most aid efforts were focused on immediate results rather than on long term solutions.

“The local government has chronically suffered from underfunding, which is a problem very well understood but difficult to solve. Rather than bringing shelter to people, we should instead bring people to shelter.”

He said,

He suggested, as had many other speakers in the discussion panel, the local government needs to be strengthened to make real progress in disaster afflicted communities.

Experiences were shared by several chairmen of Union Parishads (sub-districts) of their involvement with Friendship in tackling disasters in their respective areas. They proved grateful on how the NGO has initiated community involvement in focus group discussions, on how to best tackle upcoming crisis in the vulnerable char areas. They hoped for continual support and involvement of the NGO as the crisis in the concerned areas persist.

Dr Fazle Rabbi Sadeque Ahmed, director of environmental and climate change, PKSF, put forward very pressing issues regarding communities afflicted with flood, cyclone, and other natural disasters. As per his conclusive advise that “Along with prioritizing goal-based projects, we should focus a little less on new mechanisms and work towards maximizing the existing ones.”

To know more on climate change and disaster management activities in Bangladesh, log on to www.friendship.ngo and www.icccad.net