Making ecosystems resilient through Bangladesh's Delta Plan

Ahead of CBA11 this month, a government policy planner in Bangladesh makes the case for integrating ecosystems-based adaptation in the country's main long-term geospatial plan.

The Sundarbans mangrove forest (dark green on the image) is a fragile ecosystem threatened by rising levels of salinity (Photo: European Space Agency)

The climate threats facing Bangladesh pose a very real threat to the country's prosperity and mean we have little choice but to invest in adaptation. These risks are the result of our location on a river delta, combined with our high population density – which leaves us vulnerable to natural disasters, including flooding, cyclones, salinity intrusion, and water-logging.  

Adaptation is one of the key considerations for planners in Bangladesh and features in the draft Delta Plan – the main plan to guide geospatial planning in Bangladesh over the 21st century.

But with large numbers of people, including farmers and fishers, depending on natural ecosystems for their livelihoods, the plan must also recognise the threats and risks to the broader ecosystem, and take action to protect it.

The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100

Bangladesh's geographic vulnerability to climate change, combined with growing demand for water from urbanisation and industrialisation resulting in the rapid depletion of groundwater, mean that effective management of the Delta's water resources is crucial to national development.

The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 sets out a vision for the future of the Bangladesh Delta in response to these challenges. It seeks to balance economic development – in line with the country's goal to achieve upper middle-income status and eliminate extreme poverty by 2031 – with the longer-term challenge of managing water, ecology, the environment and land resources, and the risks from natural disasters and climate change. The plan is currently in draft form and is being scrutinised by the Bangladesh Planning Commission.

Integrating ecosystem-based adaptation

The plan recognises the risk posed by climate change to the country's farmers (and other ecosystem dependent communities) – and that these risks can only be addressed at the level of the ecosystem. It also recognises that ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) provides a significant means to help ecosystems survive climate threats. But the plan could have gone much further in setting out the actions needed to protect vital natural resources.

Ahead of the 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation, for which registration is available until 14 June, IIED is profiling national approaches to climate-resilient development. This is the second of three blogs from members of the Government Group Network on Climate Change Mainstreaming. The first focused on insuring against climate risk in Kenya.

Take the example of the Sundarbans, the largest uninterrupted mangrove forest system in the world. The Sundarbans provide an invaluable coastline buffer to natural disasters such as floods, storms, and cyclones. They are a source of food and useful materials for neighbouring communities. And they are vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change.

All this is acknowledged in the Delta Plan, yet it does not propose any comprehensive solution under a concrete EbA framework that will both protect communities and ecosystems in the Sundarbans, and other places, from the impacts of climate change.

Examples from elsewhere

Governments, planners and civil society are turning to EbA in other climate vulnerable regions. In Kenya, the ADA Consortium is working with the National Drought Management Authority, local government, communities and scientific experts to look at how to manage water, energy, and adaptation to climate change in the water-stressed dryland areas.

In Peru, the changing climate is challenging farming communities in the mountainous highland areas, affecting water supplies and temperatures. Supported by national and local government, the ANDES Asociación NGO is working with the indigenous farmers and international plant scientists to integrate local ecosystem knowledge into adaptation plans in the Potato Park, increasing plant diversity and using traditional knowledge to manage water resources.

Mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation

An inclusive EbA framework in the Delta Plan could help set Bangladesh on the path towards more resilient communities and ecosystems. The main steps of such a framework would involve:

  1. Assessing the state of ecosystems, and recognising their value to local communities
  2. Identifying where those resources are at risk – whether from climate change or other factors, and
  3. Proposing actions that can help to mitigate those risks. 

Local communities must be involved throughout this process – since they understand the resources they rely on and often know how to best manage them. Working at the community level can also generate community support for the interventions, resulting in better natural resource management.

What next?

The Bangladesh Delta Plan is still in draft form. There is still time for policy planners to take another look, a closer look this time, at the plan's approach to EbA and ensure that it includes the vital site specific interventions needed to make it robust.

Healthy ecosystems, sustainable adaptation options, resilient communities – targets attained. Yes, we can tackle the climate menace – but to do so we need a concrete EbA framework enshrined in the Delta Plan.

Sheikh Moinul Islam Moin is a policy planner working in the General Economics Division (GED) of Bangladesh Planning Commission. The GED formulated the Delta Plan.

Share: