Adapting to climate change in Bangladesh

Guest blog by
30 March 2011

Visiting rural communities in Bangladesh has always been like ‘homecoming’ for me. But I seem to learn something new every time I visit. This time was no different. I, along with 25+ participants of the Fifth Conference on community-based adaptation (CBA5), visited the Gopalgang area in southern Bangladesh. Historically, the Gopalgang area is highly vulnerable to disasters, like flooding and water logging.

We travelled to the flood prone char lands of Gopalgang. These are inhabited islands of silt formed in the middle of a river as it changes its course and where local communities have raised their homes above the historical flood levels. They’ve been shown how to cultivate crops on floating beds - beds of bamboo rafts around 1.5m x 2m in size, stuffed with manure and made with water hyacinth - and have formed small self help groups to promote micro savings and rural entrepreneurship.

Here, the local research center of the Bangladesh Centre for Adaptation Studies (BCAS) has been researching interesting ideas that allow communities to adapt to the climate with the use of ‘technologies’ like raised houses. BCAS has also been promoting low cost and small-scale energy technologies like solar power and smokeless stoves for local communities.

The day after our visit to the field we discussed our experiences and the take-home messages from our trip. There was some clear agreement on some of these messages - irrespective of the country that the participants represented. In fact, many participants felt that what they had seen in the field was strikingly similar to the situation in their own countries - issues such as the lack of education, access to health care, and other livelihoods and communication facilities. The group felt that these issues could offer an entry point for mainstreaming climate change adaptation initiatives.

The lack of access by local communities to natural resources – like land – was also another point of consensus. These resources could have otherwise provided a sense of security and source of income to communities.

The participants were impressed by the way the local communities were facilitated to form self-help groups for promoting entrepreneurship and channeling collective savings for enhancing their income and security. But there is clearly more work to be done.

Participants had the following take-home messages which could help to sustain and enhance local efforts:

1) Adaptation cannot be isolated from any other development efforts. Both development and adaptation are closely interlinked, particularly at the local scale we experienced.

2) There is limited knowledge amongst local communities on what climate change is, why it is happening and how to respond to it. While improving understanding of climate change amongst local communities might be important, communities are interested in understanding how to cope with, and adapt to, change – of which climate change is just one part.

3) Good progress has been made so far in Gopalgang and this progress has established a good point to move forwards from. But the visiting CBA participants felt that local governments and NGOs could play a greater role in promoting local adaptation initiatives.

4) Local actions could be more closely based on thorough or ‘scientific’ climate change vulnerability assessments.

5) Gender aspects could also have been better addressed by the local initiatives, bearing in mind the strong involvement of women in the self-help groups being formed for promoting rural entrepreneurship.

6) While the emphasis of the initiatives was on enhancing incomes and livelihoods, less has been done to promote access to resources such as land, health, education, communication facilities, and energy sources. More effort in these areas is needed.

All of these areas require more attention if adaptation efforts are to be truly ‘sustainable’.

SVRK Prabhakar is an Adaptation Policy Researcher at the Institute for Global and Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan.