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Combating drought

BD makes strides in land restoration

TAZRIAN IQBAL | June 05, 2024 00:00:00

The theme for World Environment Day 2024 is "Land Restoration, Desertification, and Drought Resilience." This year emphasises the critical importance of restoring degraded lands, combating desertification, and building resilience for the extreme consequences brought out by climate change with the slogan cheering "Our Land, Our Future! We are #Generation Restoration". The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is hosting the event, reflecting a global commitment to address our current pressing environmental challenges. On Bangladesh's end, collective efforts from local government and international organisations are continuing to propel us forward towards achieving this year's WED agenda and sustainable development goals (SDG) alike.

Our national strategies designed to deal with the growing consequences of climate change are inclusive of adaptation, mitigation and resilience, showing the government's commitment to development despite the foreseeable sustainable losses. Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 encourages nature-based solutions for flooding, agriculture, and renewable energy development, emphasising the role of innovative technology particularly in the form of environmental tech startups, in reducing climate change and natural hazard vulnerability at the national level. The 8th Five Year Plan (8FYP) commits to a green growth strategy but currently defines it narrowly. It outlines specific strategies, policies, and institutional reforms within the environmental sector, specifically the forest sub-sector, to integrate environmental costs into the macroeconomic framework. However, it does not fully integrate environmental and climate change considerations into its overall growth strategy. Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan is another plan that aims to promote a climate-resilient, low-carbon, and resource-efficient economy that creates jobs quickly.

In addition to national plans, if we zero in on Bangladesh's local initiatives, several issues come to mind. For example, LoGIC which stands for Local Government Initiative on Climate Change supports the capacity building of vulnerable communities, local government institutions, and civil society organisations in planning and financing climate change adaptation solutions in climate-vulnerable areas. Bangladesh has also implemented such local initiatives to address land degradation, desertification, and enhance drought resilience, demonstrating significant progress through concrete actions and rather notable statistical outcomes simultaneously aligning with the WED 2024 theme. Government in the past years set an ambitious target to increase its forest cover to 20% of the total land area by the year 2030, and it currently stands at approximately 17.62% forest cover. The credit for this can be given to large-scale tree-planting programmes like Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation (CBACC-CF). In the past ten years, over 200 million young trees had been planted, with approx. 30 million planted in just 2022 post-pandemic. More than 50,000 hectares in the Sundarbans had been regenerated by planting mangroves since 2000 with the help of CBACC-CF. Moreover, thanks to funding from the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), community-led restoring initiatives have shown results in the establishment of 10,000 hectares of mangroves in our coastal regions, showcasing the important contribution of our local communities to conservation endeavours even more.

Addressing extended periods of drought in northern and northwestern regions like Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions, local efforts have also implemented soil conservation strategies on more than 100,000 hectares of land. The methods applied directly to help prevent soil erosion in layman's terms are contour ploughing, terracing, and setting up windbreaks. Approx. 25,000 hectares of degraded land have been enhanced through incorporating trees and crops in agroforestry systems, leading to improved erosion control and soil fertility for the long term. The SLM project has carried out pilot initiatives on 15,000 hectares to demonstrate sustainable farming methods and soil conservation techniques. Over 50,000 farmers have received training on sustainable land management practices, improving their capacity to handle land resources as a result of this project effectively.

One of the main goals that also align with SDG is to improve our ability to withstand drought. 70% of cultivable areas in regions prone to drought are experiencing an increase from 55% recorded in 2010. According to the World Bank, over 20,000 solar-powered irrigation pumps were implemented to enhance water availability for farming in secluded and drought-prone regions. The Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) Project gave rise to the emphasis on water harvesting and storage projects to reduce the side effects of droughts. More than 50,000 rainwater collection systems have been set up in regions vulnerable to droughts, offering a dependable water supply for households and farms. To add to that, over 200 small and medium-sized reservoirs have been built to store rainwater and surface runoff, aiding in irrigation and livestock requirements during times of drought till date. The enhancement of early warning systems includes expanding the meteorological station count to more than 200, enhancing the country's ability to monitor and forecast drought conditions. Community-driven early alert systems now protect more than 500,000 households in regions vulnerable to drought, improving readiness and reaction to droughts. Teaming up with private companies such as Chaldal to support SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) among farmers and others, environmental tech startups like Intelligent Machines have utilised AI to offer solutions like maximising water usage and minimising waste, helping achieve SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) for effective resource management. Local startups and government initiatives in Bangladesh are teaming up to tackle environmental challenges together. Such startups are introducing innovative solutions to promote sustainability and conservation, helping Bangladesh meet global environmental goals. Via technology, addressing issues like renewable energy and waste management, positions Bangladesh as a proactive player in global sustainability efforts. In fact in 2024, Startup Bangladesh Limited invested Tk 150 million (15 crore) in seven startups, including environmental tech companies, to enhance their innovation capabilities and market reach like BD Recycle Technologies.

Government-led agricultural research organisations have also created and distributed over 20 drought-tolerant strains of crops like rice, wheat, and maize, which are currently being grown on 1.5 million hectares of land. These enhanced strains have demonstrated a 15-20% growth in productivity when compared to conventional strains in dry weather.

The aforementioned local initiatives demonstrate Bangladesh's longstanding commitment to addressing environmental challenges and delivering solutions through practical and impactful actions, leaving an indelible mark on ties with local communities that compound to national resilience overtime. This unity, in conjunction with innovative technology is the main ingredient of success for these initiatives, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient environment. The collaborative support received from funding, policy initiatives, and infrastructure development is of utmost priority in maintaining the said momentum. Future plans that engage both on a local and international scale include even more investments in sustainable technologies, encouraging FDI, and expanding support for early-stage startups to ensure long-term growth and environmental sustainability. This holistic approach, integrating technology and sustainability, will be the beacon of hope.

The author is an intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh, and a policy associate of the environmental and climate change team at the Youth Policy Forum.

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