CBA10 field trips: adaptation in practice

The 10th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation offered field trips to see how people in urban environments are taking practical steps to deal with the impacts of climate change. IIED's Matt Wright reports.

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Matt Wright
Matt Wright is IIED's web planning and content manager
27 April 2016
An image showing a group photo of CBA10 field trip group posing for a photo on a rooftop at the end of a long day during which the delegates made visits to four separate projects in Dhaka where communities are adapting to climate change (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

A CBA10 field trip group, from countries ranging from England to Nepal, poses for a photo at the end of a long day during which the delegates made visits to four separate projects in Dhaka where communities are adapting to climate change (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

When you ask participants about the best part of the conferences on community-based adaptation (CBA), the overwhelming response is the field trips.

From Kathmandu to Nairobi, and from Dar Es Salaam to Hanoi, the 10 CBA conferences have included field trips to see how local communities are adapting to the challenges of climate change, and opportunities to share real-world experiences and knowledge. These excursions have been cited by many as the highlights of the week-long event.

This year I can add my own voice of praise. In roughly 10 hours we had the opportunity to meet a huge number of people working at the climate change coalface, ranging from the executive director of a Bangladesh NGO working in partnership with Save the Children, to schoolchildren who pressured local authorities to take action to clean a canal.

The visits tallied perfectly with the conference theme of urban community resilience. Here are some of my highlights of the day (click on the smaller images to expand into a photo gallery):

An image showing a group of people around a table, as a CBA10 field trip group meets with Bangladesh NGO Community, Participation and Development (CPD) to learn about their work and share experiences (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

In Dhaka, host city of this year's CBA conference, 14.6 million people live inside an area of just 125 square miles (PDF). The most densely populated city in the world – even Mumbai is around one-third less dense – Dhaka has particular challenges when it comes to dealing with climate change.

Our field trip began in the western part of the city, in Mohammadpur, where we saw how Bangladesh NGO Community Participation and Development (CPD) is working with Save the Children to educate five to 18-year olds about climate change impacts, and to build their capacity to take action.

We learned about several schools where CPD is not only providing information in targeted lessons, but promoting debate and art competitions to engage the wider communities beyond the confines of the school. CPD is also working with teachers to show them how to bring climate change education into the classroom and how to use the right terminology to ensure that children can understand and identify the issues in their own lives.

The schools have even introduced 'oxygen boxes': collection boxes into which pupils place very small amounts of money. This money is used to buy plants to green their campus and create gardens in areas devoid of any plant life. Often the plant holders are adapted from plastic bottles. 

We visited Bengali Medium High School, and heard from children in Class 8 as they spoke of their pride in their actions. They explained that most of the plants around the school were neem, because it can tolerate very high levels of pollution and produces a high amount of oxygen. In turn, the children quizzed the conference delegates on what action was being taken in their own countries.

Explaining the way in which CPD works with children, CPD's executive director Moslemi Bari said: "We aim to help them understand that they can do something themselves, and to encourage them to take action, no matter how small. We capacitate the children to raise their voices."

An image showing a classroom, in which children and adults mix freely as pupils from Class 8 of Bengali Medium High School tell delegates what measures they have been taking around the school - and grill the field trip members about the climate change responses of their own countries (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing two boxes attached to a wall. One is an 'oxygen box', where pupils at Bengali Medium High School place small amounts of savings, which are used to buy plants to 'green the campus'. The plants bought are neem, which are particularly effective as absorbing pollution and producing oxygen (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

An image showing several plastic bottles, mounted on walls and containing plants. These plastic bottles are now being used to house the neem plants bought by money from the oxygen box (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing a group photo of schoolchildren and adults in the courtyard of the school (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

These 'raised voices' were again evident at the next destination, an Eco-friendly Child Club that is attended by up to 50 children two days a week, and which recently successfully campaigned for a nearby canal full of rubbish to be cleaned up by local authorities.

In addition to learning more about climate change, the youngsters encourage their local community to use the club as a library, and often put on themed theatre performances to further educate their friends, family and neighbours.

One student, Lipie, said: "We inform our family about climate issues and how we need to do something as soon as possible to avoid even more problems in the future. In the past, people did not listen as much, but people are now noticing their health suffering, and are realising the connections and the importance."

Another pupil, Salma, talked about paintings that were on display. "These pictures show the importance of trees," she said. "If we don't have oxygen, we cannot survive. We invite our neighbours to come and visit and learn. Nearby there was a house with an empty courtyard; now it is full of plants [after the owner visited us] and we've noticed the whole area is getting greener."

An image showing a sign on the front of a small brightly coloured building in Dhaka. It's the front of an Eco-friendly Child Club, where up to 50 pupils learn more about the challenges they face due to climate change, and share their knowledge with friends and family (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing a young female pupil standing in front of of other children, talking to adult members of the field trip. Lipie explains the role of the club, and how they invite others to come to use it as a library and learn about climate change. She says: "We inform our family about climate issues and how we need to do something as soon as possible to avoid even more problems in the future." (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

An image showing another pupil, Salma, standing in front of fellow children pointing at bright paintings of trees on the wall beside here. "If we don't have oxygen, we cannot survive," says Salma, showing a collection of paintings by the pupils at the Eco-Friendly Child Club emphasising the important role played by trees (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing a canal, which seems relatively dirty, but was previously filthy until it was cleaned by the local authorities as a result of pressure put on them by members of the Eco-friendly Child Club, an example of the pupils taking direct action to improve their surroundings (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

On our way to the next stop, the home of a local 'green champion', we stopped at the canal that was the subject of the children's campaigning. Although our stop was brief, it served to emphasise that the CPD project is not just about theoretical teaching but delivers action and results.

A green champion

The green champion has converted whatever space she possesses – in her flat, on her balcony, on an area of the roof to become a miniature forest amid the urban jungle.

Not only do plants act as heat and water absorbers, the plants on her balcony act as a shield to help prevent dust from the Dhaka streets from entering her home.

A close-up artistic photo of plants as part of a rooftop garden. Placing plants on rooftops helps absorb heat and water and improves the urban environment. CBA10 delegates met a 'green champion' who has taken a series of greening measures around her home (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing a wider shot of the rooftop garden, with numerous plants and small trees on display. This small oasis amid the hubbub of Dhaka is the roof of the green champion, showing around half the plants that she has acquired (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

An image showing a balcony area of the home of a female Dhaka resident, where plants climb up a trellis outside. The use of plants continues on the balcony of the green champion's home, where plants act as a screen to help keep dust from her entering her home (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image of inside the Dhaka's resident's home, with the women pictured in front of numerous house plants. The green champion shows off even more plants in her living quarters (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

The final destination on our field trip was Sher-e Bangla Agriculture University, where we learned about a roof garden initiative supported by the Islamic Relief Bangladesh

Researchers told us about research that shows that implementing rooftop gardens on a variety of scales can reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and reduce the urban heat island effect that plagues megacities around the world. What’s more, they provide greater thermal performance and roof insulation for the building on which they are mounted.

A small oasis high above the busy city, the rooftop garden was the perfect spot to end the day and reflect on what we learned. And no doubt, it will be the basis for dozens of fascinating discussions to come in the conference itself.

An image showing how a garden is surrounded by the roofs in Dhaka, emphasising its height above ground. This rooftop garden at Sher-e Bangla Agriculture University, supported by Islamic Relief Bangladesh, is part of a research project showing how rooftop gardens help lessen the effect of urban heat islands (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing a part of the rooftop garden in close-up, with plants on a bench and a sign saying 'vertical garden'. Having been planted as part of a rooftop garden, these vertical plants are already high enough! This is just a small part of the extensive green area on the roof of Sher-e Bangla Agriculture University (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

An image showing in more detail the contents of the rooftop garden, with a large number of plants and varieties, set against the rooftop background. Although the rooftop garden is quite large, the range and number of plants contained within is even more impressive, illustrating the possibilities for urban greening (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED) An image showing CBA10 delegates inside the rooftop garden and looking at all the different plants. CBA10 delegates take a closer look at the wide variety of plants within the rooftop garden. When implementing, you can choose plants and a scale to make managing a rooftop garden suit your needs (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

Matt Wright ([email protected]) is IIED's web planning and content manager. Follow his tweets from Dhaka and CBA10 via @IIED and @mattjobob.