Bangladesh: mangrove island reflects people's creativitiy

A field trip to a mangrove island near the Bay of Bengal highlights the determination and creativity of local communities in adapting to climate change.

Bettina Koelle's picture
Insight by 
Bettina Koelle
28 March 2011

[flickr-photo:id=5567753960,class=right,size=m, caption=Our colourful group certainly attracted a lot of attention and we slowly got used to being the centre of attention in more remote places (Photo: B Koelle)]

In an earlier blog, IIED researcher Hannah Reid described her visit to Manikganj District, Bangladesh in one of the field trips at this year’s conference on community-based adaptation. I set out for my field trip with a mixture of excitement and anticipation: we were to travel all the way to Char Kukri–Mukri, one of the islands in the mangroves near the Bay of Bengal.

We travelled at slow speed — 12 hours on a bus, dodging people, rickshaws and livestock all the way. But before we’d even got there we started to get a good feel for what it is like to live in an area where water is abundant, crossing three rivers by ferry on our journey south. Everywhere along the way, there was a bustle of activity and a huge number of people implementing, what seemed to me as an outsider, complex livelihood strategies.

After spending the night in Bhola town, we boarded speed boats to travel up the often narrow channels that form the way to Char Kukri Mukri.

Established only some 50 years ago, the island’s community face a number of challenges in their already difficult lives, including more frequent and intense cyclones and the huge tidal surges that come with them. These tidal surges often flood the entire island, taking people, homes and livestock with them. After the flooding, the challenge of salinity on the arable lands remains, preventing the local farmers from planting fruit or vegetable trees.

Adapting to change

The local community is adapting to these challenges in many ways. For example, supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and various government departments, it has built a cyclone shelter, raised above ground, that can house up to 600 people in the event of a cyclone or tidal wave. The shelter, which includes solar power and internet access, also functions as a home for the local administration. An early warning system including SMS and local communication ensures that everybody can reach the cyclone shelter in time.

Another way in which the community is adapting to change is by stabilising the land and increase sedimentation. Again supported by the UNDP and national government, the community has established a nursery for mangrove seedlings of a pioneer species. The nursery project employs women and so is also creating much-needed jobs.

Another adaptation shown to us was presented as the ‘FFF approach’. It combines Forest, Fish and Fruit farming using a newly-developed mound-ditch system that aims to stabilise the soil on the mangrove islands while also increasing incomes for members of the local community.

[flickr-photo:id=5567754246,class=right,size=m, caption=Women tending the mangrove seedlings in the nursery of Char Kuki Mukri (Photo: B Koelle)]

I am deeply impressed by the way people living in these remote and fragile ecosystems are fiercely determined to adapt to extreme conditions and climate variability and change and highly creative in finding ways to do so. And I am returning to Dhaka and the rest of the conference with both admiration and respect for the people living on the mangrove islands close to the Bay of Bengal.

This guest post was written by Bettina Koelle, director of the nongovernmental organisation Indigo development & change, South Africa.