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Dealing with the manifestation of localised vulnerabilities to climate change

December 10, 2023 00:00:00

People wade through flood water in search of a dry ground in Jamalpur, Bangladesh on July 2, 2020. — Xinhua Photo

Geographical location at the approach of the Bay of Bengal, land structure involving low-lying terrains, great rivers, and the socioeconomic dynamics of coastal, riverine, and remote communities, have all combined to make Bangladesh the seventh most climate-vulnerable country in the world. The impacts are being manifested in various forms. Frequent changes in climate parameters havemeant that the days are becomingincreasingly hotterin summer when compared with the historical average. Also, thenumber of warmer days is on the rise. Late onset of a shortened rainy season is at present a common phenomenon. Frequency ofstorm surges and wind pressurehave also increased. Such erratic variations of climatological parameters iscausing more frequent and more intense natural disasters, i.e., flash floods, regular floods and riverbank erosion in the northern districts; flash floods and thunderstorms in the north-eastern Haor districts; drought in the north-western districts; waterlogging in the south-west coast; cyclones and storms in the south-east coast; and salinity intrusion in the southern belt of Bangladesh.

While the abovementioned rapid-onset (flood, river bank erosion, cyclones, etc.) and slow-onset (sea level rise, salinity intrusion) climate change events are adversely affecting local communities in a variety of ways, in all such cases it is the marginalised groups within the affectedpopulation who tend to be impacted the most. More particularly, this includethe women, children, young people, river-dependent communities and coastal farmers.Among these left-behind people,persons with disabilities andtransgender identities, ethnic minorities, dalits and harijans suffer relatively more because of their specific difficulties and low coping capacities. The adverse consequences are exacerbated because of insufficient resources, weak support measures and limited funds available to address adaptation challenges for mitigation of negative impacts.

The persistence of slow-onset events such as sea level rise and salinity intrusion is forcing farmers in southern districts of Bangladesh to change cropping patterns, from more profitablebut somewhat risky cropping practicesto subsistence one. Indeed, this is causing significant changes in agricultural practices in these regionsthat involve hard choices and difficult trade-offs. For instance, farmers could go for adopting crop varieties that are more saline-tolerant but these tend to have lower yields.A number of marginal farmersin the coastal belt in the south have been compelled to sell their croplands to commercial farmers, with themselves ending up as workersin shrimp farms.People living in southern districts, close to the Sundarbans and its surroundings, lack access to saline-free, safe drinking water. The rights and sexual and reproductive health of women, girls and young women are adversely impacted because of high salinity.

Over the past two decades, communities near Bangladesh's south-east and south-west coastlines have experienced an increase in the frequency of powerful cyclones and storms. People inhabiting south-east and south-west coastal areas have experiences loss of family members and relatives, as also homes and farmlands, due to natural calamities such as Aila, Sidr and Amphan. Among these people, many are still living in hardship and stuck in long-term debt trap. Having lost homesand homesteads, these people had to take refuge in various chars and surrounding forest lands. This made these communities even more susceptible and exposed to subsequent climate calamities and natural disasters.Communities in the interior coastal districts of south-west Bangladesh have been suffering because of considerable damage to infrastructure and other structures including homesteads.Other manifestations of climate impactcan be seen in decreased plant growth, production lossesduring crop harvesting and chronic health (skin-related) diseases as a result ofthe rising waterlogging and salinity.

In a similar vein, people living in Haor areasof north-eastern districts of Bangladesh have, in recent times, experienced the onslaught of more frequent and intense flash floods. These have caused them to not only lose harvest, income and business earnings, but havealso compelledmany of them to go for distress selling of their livestock and other assets to cope with income erosion. Sources of safe drinking water in coastal areas is largely contaminated, leading often to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, particularly amongchildren and women. In these regions, students suffer fromloss of educational hours. The river-dependent communities in Bangladesh's northern regions have suffered consequencesof similar types as a result offlooding. People in northern Bangladesh incursignificant economic losses in the form of shrinkage of croplands, damage to, and loss of, dwellings, loss incurred tobusinesses, shops and properties as the direct result of river erosion. This commonly happens following the monsoon floods. Communities dependent on trans-boundary rivers,for agricultural practices and navigational purposes, for example, living in the catchment areas of Teesta and its tributaries, suffer significantlyas a result of irregular flow of water.In summer, these communities are faced with shortage of water, while during the monsoon an abundance of water frequently causes flash floods.

In contrast, farming communities in Bangladesh's north-western districts of Barind region often experience severe drought.They face significantly high cost forpurposes of irrigation and in dealing with pest attacks. Inadequate access to safe drinking water is another issue for those living in at-risk neighbourhoods in north-west Bangladesh.Intense heat in summer leads to dehydration; indeed heat-related deaths have been on the rise in recent times. Overall, the strain of losing access to water, watching crops die, losing livelihood opportunities and seeing family members suffer from diseases results in stress within households and in communities, andsometimes cause violence and conflicts. The relatively disadvantaged people suffer the most, as they don't have means to mitigate adverse consequences, are notable to migrate to cities or other places, and have to live and deal with the attendant challenges on an ongoing basis.

Persistence of slow-onset events such as the sea level rise and salinity intrusion is threatening the lives and livelihoods of over 13 million coastal people in Bangladesh.Many are being compelled to migrate to cities and peri-urban areas or encroach on nearby forest lands. This results in congestion in cities and leads to growth ofunplanned urbanisation. The rate of urban poverty and malnutrition rises.

The above could potentially trigger disruptions in social cohesion andleads to conflictsinvolving marginalised communities in urban slums and thenewly-migrated climate refugees.Studies show that climate migrants also frequently experience widespread human trafficking.

On the other hand, rising instances of encroachment on forest lands for human settlementis further exacerbating the ecological balance.This is more of a problem for Bangladesh where only 10.70 per cent of the country's area isat present under forest.Although Bangladesh only contributes to less than 0.48 percent of global emissions, it is one of the most impacted by climate change. For instance, over the 2015-2020 period, Bangladesh'sannual economic loss and damage due to natural disasters was equivalent to 1.32 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Despite being a minor source of global emissions, Bangladesh has made commitments unconditionally reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6.73 per cent below the business-as-usual level in the energy, industrial, agriculture, forestry, and waste sectors, and conditionally by 15.12 per cent below business-as-usual levels by 2030 under the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). In view of these, investment in renewable energy has emerged as a critically important issue in the Bangladesh context, in terms of meeting its NDC commitments as also from the perspective ofattaining a number of targets under the SDGs.

To meet the NDC commitments, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) needs to pursuea bottom-up approach. This is particularly so as there is a significantlack of indepth knowledge about theattendant local level vulnerabilities and needs of concerned communities, and more so, the needs of the marginalised communities. Indeed, weak integration of policies and programmes has been identified as a key challenge in view ofboth climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Bangladesh context. On the other hand, as may be recalled, in view of addressingclimate change-induced vulnerabilities, locally-led adaptation (LLA) approach, based on eight principles, has gained traction in relevant global discourse. Localised climate governance,aligned with LLA, offers a new opportunity to identify and deal with the localised vulnerabilities of climate change in a collaborative and participatory manner. On a welcome note, the government of Bangladesh has recognised the importance of LLA; indeed this gets mentioned throughout the 'National Adaptation Plan (NAP) 2023-50', in connection with thevarious interventions from the perspective of ensuring meaningful social inclusion.

In view of the aforesaid emergent challenges and the urgency of addressing those, the objective of the present paper, originally prepared as a policy brief, is to put forward a set of recommendations to effectively deal with the manifestations of localised climate change vulnerabilitiesimpacting Bangladesh, keeping the concerns of disadvantaged groups at the centre of attention.


Implement all interventions mentioned in the National Adaptation Plan (2023-50) andensure that national Five YearDevelopment Plans are aligned with those. In dealing with climate change adaptation, the NAP is to serve as Bangladesh's primary planning and investment framework for the next 28 years (2023-2050). NAP aims to achieve six specific goals: i) ensure protection against climate change variability and climate-induced natural disasters; ii) develop climate-resilient agriculture for food, nutrition, and livelihood security; iii) develop climate-smart cities for improved urban environment and well-being; iv) promote nature-based solutions for conservation of forestry, biodiversity, and well-being of communities; v) impart good governance through integration of adaptation into the planning process; and vi) ensure transformative capacity building and innovation for CCA. The NAP has identified 113 interventions to be implemented in 11 climate-stressed regions across Bangladesh. About BDT 20 trillion (or equivalent to over USD 200 billion); will be required to implement these interventions; approximately 75 per cent of this amount is expected to be needed by 2040.

Identify community-led adaptation techniques, based on local knowledge, to assess whether these could potentially be scaled up to address the challenges posed by global warming. A number of community-led adaptation methods are found in different parts of rural Bangladesh. For instance, communities in northern Bangladesh frequently construct 'Bandals', an indigenous bamboo structure, to lower river erosion in small river basins and to reclaim agricultural fields. 'Baira' or floating agriculture is a traditional agricultural method where floating beds are prepared with water hyacinth and other plant components. This provides opportunities for income generation and helps people in southern Bangladesh to strengthen resilience against water-logging. In an effort to identify a feasible bandalling structure which will maintain physical characteristics of the river, the Bangladesh River Research Institute (RRI) is at presentconducting three pilot projects. One of these projects is in the Brahmaputra basin. On the other hand, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recognised floating agriculture as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). It is important to deploy a developmental approach that takes into cognisance regional variations in climate impacts, and draws on locally driven small-scale adaptation solutions based on indigenous knowledge and home-grown techniques.

Introduce a special social safety net transfer programme in support ofmarginalised groups living in Haor areas. The Haor ecosystem is diverse, and its naturechanges significantly with seasonal variations. In the dry season, people within the water retention area cultivate the land, whereas in the wet season this very land remains submerged and becomes a spawning ground for fish. In majority of the hoar areas of Bangladesh commercial leasing for fishing is allowed under a legal framework. As a result, communities within the retention area are not able to go for fishing during certain times of the year. This has severe negative consequences for their livelihoods. In view of this, thegovernment should introduce a special social safety net transfer programmeduring the lean period in support of the marginalised groups living in Haor areas.

Develop more water retention grounds/systems to ensure access to clean and safe drinking water for people living in saline and drought prone areas. 68.3 million people in Bangladesh (41 per cent of the total population) lack access to properly-managed drinking water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) - UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report. Due to climate change-induced salinity intrusion and increased shrimp aquaculture along the coast, freshwater supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. Additionally, in many areas, the groundwater table has gone further down, drying up shallow and deep tube wells; this leaves only rainfall and pond water as viable alternatives as sources of water. Localsolutions such as rainwater harvestingand seawater reverse osmosis systems to filter saltwater, at the community and household levels, are examples oftechnologies that could address this issue.However, this needs to be done at policy and regulatory levels through strictly-imposedspecific laws and guidelines concerning management of natural resources.The actions should be targeted to address deforestation and extraction of resources such as sand and rocks from and near water bodies. These measures should guideBangladesh's agricultural policiesas well.

Initiate an impact assessment study to understand the effectiveness and sustainability of projects led by the Climate Change Trust Fund which, going forward, should help policymakers to take evidence-based decisions in designing projects. There is a need to showcase the lessons learned in view of the experience gained. Since the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) was set up in 2009, a total of Tk 3,955 crore has been allocated from this fund till December 2022. Of this, Tk. 1,447 crore was retained as a reserve, while Tk. 2,507 crorewas allocated for implementing 851 projects as of December 2022. Among the thematic areas, infrastructure development received the most funding, receiving 59 per cent of the total budget. This was followed by mitigation and low-carbon development (23 per cent), food security, social protection, and health (13 per cent), research, capacity building, and institutional development (6 per cent), and comprehensive disaster management (1 per cent). In spite of the fund being operational for over a decade, no comprehensive assessment has been carried outwhich delves into such issues as efficacy of funds used, sustainability of the projects undertakenand state of accountabilityin fund use. It is high time to make a comprehensive assessment of the projects implemented under BCCTF and their outcomes. These should be measured against the concrete objectives set out for the projects.The impact on lives and livelihoods of disadvantaged communities should be at the heart of such an exercise.

Initiate a comprehensive study on 'Valuation of Forest Ecosystem', by types of forests, to better prepare for global negotiationsoncarbon sequestration, as also to assess socio-economic benefits originating from the forest resources. In recent years, Bangladesh's forest coverage has declined to as low as 10.7 per cent, despite the fact that 17.5 per cent of the country's land was designated as forest land(which also include land under social afforestation). Forest-based ecosystem services play a crucial role in contributing to livelihoods, generating employment and ensuring the well-being of many marginalised groups that are dependent on forest resources. As is known, forests serve as invaluable natural resources,at the same timeprovidingprotection from the impact of natural disasters and carbon sequestration. all of thesehaveeconomic implications that needto be calculated and factored into the policies. Preservation of the invaluable and rich biodiversityand maintenance ofdelicate ecologicalbalance should also be considered in this exercise. Economic valuation of forest ecosystem services can inform policymakers about the ecological and socio-economic benefits of conserving forests, and thereby incentivise appropriate policymaking to secure a sustainable future for next generations.

Initiate a study to determine national "loss and damage" consequent to climate change. Compensation for loss and damage has attracted renewed interest and attention in recent climate negotiations. The UNFCCC eventually took the decision, in November 2022, at the 27th annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), to create and operationalise a new fund to support developing countries which are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The fund is geared to respond to climate change impacts and recover from climate-induced damages. The terms of payment and modality of operation of this fundare yet to be chalked out though. A 24member transitional committee has beenconstituted to put forward recommendations to be placedat COP28 (30 November - 12 December, 2023, in Dubai, UAE). In this backdrop, the GoB should initiate a comprehensive study to estimate the value of national 'loss and damage' due to climate change so that Bangladesh has the information tosuccessfully negotiate for compensation based on data and evidence on the ground.

Initiate, prepare and enact a Watershed Strategy Plan. An integrated use of land, vegetation and water in a geographically distinct drainage area, for the benefit of people inhabiting the area, is known as watershed management (WM). This is particularly vital for communities living in Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracks and coastal regions. Perhaps because the country is a predominant deltaic plain, Bangladesh doesn't have a watershed policy, strategy, or plan which is appropriate for the upland regions of the CHT. Currently, communities which rely on these watersheds for their livelihoods and access to water remainhighly vulnerable as a result of continued degradation of watersheds. In this backdrop, with a view to prioritise community-based watershed management, the GoB should initiate, prepare, and enact a Watershed StrategyPlan on an urgent basis. This is critically important more specifically for the disadvantaged groups.

Maintain, review and improve data collection quality as regards hydro-meteorological variables. There is a growing concern in Bangladesh as regards the quality of data relating to various hydro-meteorological variables. On the other hand, this is of heightened importance from the perspective of making informed policy decisions and addressing the anticipated climate change-related challenges. Collecting and monitoring of surface water and groundwater quality andsalinity data, on a continuing basis, have now become essential for undertaking interventions to reduce the economic and health-related vulnerabilities of local communities. In this context, the GoB should take advantage of artificial intelligence in identifying climate change solutions when and where applicable. This particularly concerns data generation, analysis, and data integration in policymaking.

Encourage public private partnership (PPP) projects in renewable energy and energy transmission, housing, transport and climate-smart agriculture solutions. Public-private partnership opportunities could be highly effective in view of green transition, including energy generation from renewable sources. Such a transition should create moregreen jobs specially for the young people. Thus, the government and private sector should undertake more joint initiativestowardsgreen transition and develop the required skills necessary for this. To attainthe national commitment of generating 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2041, about USD 19.2 to USD 37.2 billion investment will be neededonly to develop the required installed capacity. Greater private sector involvement will be needed to mobilise both domestic and foreign investment.Such collaboration is also necessary to initiate and implement the requiredreforms,encourage innovation and promote efficiency in view of sector-specific climate-smart solutions.

Declare renewable energy-based projects under SREDA as fast track projects. The energy industry in Bangladesh is highly reliant on sources that use fossil fuels. Only 3.5 per cent of the 26 GW installed capacity originates from renewable sources. The GoB hasset an optimistic goal of producing 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2041. This, however, comes in the backdrop of the pastfailure to achieve 10 per cent of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2021. To not repeat the past experience, it is critically important to categorise the ongoing solar park and wind projects under SREDA as fast-track projects. This will revitalise renewable energy-based power sector, and help address a number of climate change mitigation challenges facing the country. In addition, launching of 'Net meter' based projects should receive high policy priority which will call for availability of the required technical and financial support to scale up operation and strengthenhuman resource capacities.GoB needs tobe mindful that all renewable energy projects should have proper waste disposal and management plans and systems in place, particularly for dealing with hazardous waste.

Illegal sand mining must be immediately stopped. Legal permits for sand mining sites may be allowed only after conducting appropriate feasibility study and environmental assessment. Given the 8 per cent growth in the construction sector and similar pace of growth in the real estate industry, the demand for sand in Bangladesh is expected to continue to rise in future. In this backdrop, the issue of river erosion may, over time, become more acutein view of the ongoing illegal sand mining activities. The adverse environmental implications and negative impact on livelihoods of such practices are becoming increasingly visible.Hence, illegal sand mining should be bannedwithout delay through appropriate legal measures.The government should issue legal permits for sand mining only after proper feasibility study and environmental assessment.The revenue that the governmentexpects to make fromsuch legal permits should be deployed to undertake adaptation and mitigation measures in favour of the local riverine communities.

Introduce 'Polluters-pay' principle for pollution management in Bangladesh. For the first time in history, Bangladesh has decided to impose a carbon tax in the National Budget for FY2023-24. Even though the tax structure, provisionsand specifications remain somewhat ambiguous, limited, and even contradictory in scope, it is encouraging to see that the GoB is serious about penalising the polluters. To note, thelevel of the country's air and water pollution has increased considerably in recent past years. Consequently, adoption of stringent measures to implement the "Polluter Pays" principle, in view the country's pollution management, has emerged as an urgency. This will help Bangladesh to protect its environment from air and water pollution. While imposingthe penaltytax forpollution, it should be seen that the payment should cover the cost of environmental harm as well. Improving the quality of air and water will no doubt benefit health of all citizens, but most notablythat of children, women and the elderly.

Provide highest priority to trans-boundary water sharing agreements with neighbouring countries to address complex climate change consequences. Bangladesh shares three trans-boundary rivers with Myanmar and 54 transboundary rivers with India. With the exception of the three largest rivers, the country as a whole-especially the south-west region-experiences significant water shortages during the dry season. The problems are most acutein case of agricultural cultivation and for smooth navigationof the concerned trans-boundary rivers. Additionally, salt intrusion and environmental degradation are becomingworse because of reduced stream flow which also reduces the productivity of natural aquifers. In this backdrop, the GoB should give highest priority to signing trans-boundary water sharing agreements with India. Delay in negotiations will further worsen and accentuate pre-existing vulnerabilities of communities whose livelihoods depend on these rivers. Many people will likely experience forced displacement from their lands. Their struggle against different forms of climate adversitymay be further exacerbated if the issue is not given the importance it deserves.

Establish a specialised department within the Economic Relations Division to prepare documents, develop proposals and design project profiles in order to avail of climate change funds created under global initiatives. There is a widespread concern that developed countries, which are mostly responsible for global warming, could attempt to substitute official development assistance (ODA) for meeting their pledge towards the global climate fund. Bangladesh should take the lead in mobilising global opinion for decouplingclimate components fromdevelopment projects. In the past, Bangladesh was not able to access various climate funds, notably the Global Climate Fund (CGF), on numerous occasions, mostly because it lacked the ability to prepare project proposals by meeting the stringent requirements attached to availing these funds. To avert this in future, the government should establish a dedicated department within the Economic Relations Division which will be entrusted with preparing documents, developing proposals, and designing project profiles to help access climate change-related funds. Such an outfit will also be able to facilitate climate-related negotiations. For better inter-Ministerial coordination, an official with at least the rank of Joint Secretary status should be designated as the climate change focal person in every Ministry.

Allow non-state actors to effectively participateinclimate change-related policymaking process to help address the needs of marginalised communities and likely climate migrants. Globally, non-state actors play a significant role in climate advocacy in favour of marginalised communities. The GoB should acknowledge the important rolethat the country's civil society, non-government organisations and other non-state actorscould play in promoting and implementing an inclusive climate policy. The government mustallow these actors to participate, act, and support the GOB inclimate change-related policymaking and advocacy. This is particularly necessary to address the needs of the marginalised communities and potential climate migrants. By building partnerships with participation of government agencies, development partners and non-state actors, it is possible to advance the cause of environmental sustainability in global platforms and mobilise funds towards climate action in Bangladesh. This is important for strategising and allocating resources in a planned manner to combat the challenges of climate change in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the left behind groups.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS: In order to implement the concrete recommendations presented above, the government should support onlocally-led adaptation practices and promote private sector investment in innovation. The government should create platforms where vulnerable women and young people are able to highlight local contexts, raise concerns aboutadverseclimate impacts and challenges of and voice suggestions to tackle those. Climate change related challenges are very diverse and are specific to different vulnerable communities and localities- flash floods, regular floods and river bank erosion in the northern districts; flash floods and thunderstorms in the north-eastern Haor districts; drought in the north-western districts; waterlogging in the south-west coast; cyclones and storms in the south-east coast; and salinity intrusion in the southern belt of Bangladesh.Local solutions will need to be found to address local challenges. There is a need to allocate necessary funds to undertake pre-, during and post-disaster relief and rehabilitation programmes. A transition in the Bangladesh agriculture, to make it resilient to climate change, is a must. So is the generation of energy from renewable sources to attain the sustainable development goals. Transformative adaptation will be crucial for the inclusion of marginalised and excluded people in resilience-building efforts. Contextualised and localised skills development programmes will be needed to address local environmental challenges and encourage climate-friendly entrepreneurship. This approach will also help meet the commitment of leaving no one behind (LNOB) in view of sustainable development of Bangladesh. Localised climate governance should be seen as a new window of opportunity to deal with the emerging spatial vulnerabilities originating from climate change impact.

The paper is a slightly abridged version of a policy brief which is prepared by a team of experts prepared by a team with Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) as Chair and Mr Estiaque Bari, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, East West University serving as the Penholder Expert. Other members are: Dr Haseeb Irfanullah, Independent Consultant - Environment, Climate Change, & Research System and Visiting Research Fellow, ULAB; Mr Sharif Jamil, Executive Director, Blue Planet Initiative (BPI); Ms Farah Kabir, Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh; Professor Mizan R. Khan, Deputy Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD); Dr Md Golam Rabbani, Head, Climate Bridge Fund Secretariat, BRAC; Dr A Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies; Dr Md Nazmus Sadath, Professor, Forestry and Wood Technology Discipline, Khulna University; Dr Md Nazmus Sadekin, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University; and Mr Partha Hefaz Shaikh, Director Policy and Advocacy, WaterAid Bangladesh.

The Policy Brief exercise is the outcome of an initiative of the Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh hosted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). The issues were identified and prioritised through nation-wide consultations with local level people and organisations. The initiative was led by Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya and Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellows at the CPD. [email protected]

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