BANGLADESH: Community-Based Climate Strategies Are Key

Posted on 19 December 2009 by editor

By Darryl D’Monte

COPENHAGEN, Dec 19 (IPS/TerraViva) – Many countries treat Bangladesh as a country that is so afflicted by calamities that it is incapable of pulling itself out of dire poverty. Yet, it has blazed a trail in drawing up blueprints for community-driven climate adaptation strategies.

Part of this blueprint is to revive traditional farming practices that could withstand extreme weather changes.

“People used traditional farming practices,” notes Prof Ainun Nishat, a former academic, now senior advisor for climate in Asia to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Dhaka, told IPS. “We had 5,000 varieties of rice which could withstand this variability, but have now been lost.”

Non-government organisations and the IUCN have for several years been encouraging people to revive such practices. In undivided Bengal, before the partition of India in 1947, for instance, it was common for people to set aside five percent of their land for a pond to breed fish and irrigate paddy.

He cites a programme reintroducing water-tolerant species as well as those that can survive in floods, drought and salinity, a breakthrough. There is a species of rice that can be submerged under water for 15 days without deteriorating. The new government is also implementing a project to resuscitate river networks.

Since Bangladesh receives up to two billion tonnes of sediment from the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers every year, it is encouraging communities to maintain the age-old networks of small rivers and canals, which have fallen into disrepair. Traditionally in Bengal, these were excavated by manual labour under the supervision of the local community and this valuable practice is being revived.

“This initiative is community-based,” he says. “It is both top-down and bottom-up. Collectively, we sensitise the government.”

“Bangladesh is nature’s disaster laboratory,” says Prof Nishat. “Apart from volcanoes, we have every type (of disaster),” he adds, stressing the urgency of adopting mitigation measures, particularly at the community level. He is particularly worried about the erratic monsoon, which can give rise to drought-like conditions.

A decade ago, experts realised that to help people combat climate variability, they had to find alternative means of generating incomes. One way was to harvest the troublesome hyacinth weed in ponds and pile it to grow seedlings. IUCN and non-government organisations introduced these methods in two coastal islands of Bhola and Hatiya.

A. Atiq Rahman, the well-known executive director of the Bangladesh Centre of Advanced Studies, who took part in the just concluded climate talks in this Danish capital, organised three international workshops to synthesise the lessons drawn from efforts to explore alternative sources of income. The Bangladesh government expressed an interest in the proceedings. When it had to formulate plans to cope with climate change in 2003-2005, it did away with the normal route of hiring consultants and created seven task forces, half of which were headed by non-government experts, including Prof Nishat.

The government allocated 200 million U.S. dollars for this purpose, for which 12 to 15 projects were shortlisted. Importantly, the task forces were not put under a ministry or directorate but operated with a high degree of autonomy. “This was because of the cross-cutting nature of these problems: every ministry was involved.”

“A key issue is food security,” he says. “The seal-level rise is less worrying than the ingress of salinity.” By 2100, it is estimated that salinity may travel 89 metres inland, and this will affect people’s livelihoods.

Experts are also monitoring “storm surges” and cyclones, which have increased in intensity and frequency. Between 1960 and 2009, there were 15 major events; from 2007, there have already been four. “The sea is also growing rough and preventing fishermen from venturing out on certain days,” Prof Nishat reports.

In 2007, then Environment Minister C.S. Karim asked officials and NGOs to contribute to a report in the build-up to the Copenhagen conference. To operationalise the Bali Action Plan – the so-called “road map” to a new global climate treaty – the government was fully engaged in drawing up an adaptation strategy, which attracted the attention of donors.

Funding for the strategy came from the British government, the World Bank and the British Department for International Development. The resulting ‘Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2009’, was published in September or three months ahead of the Copenhagen talks.

There are six themes: food security, social protection and health; disaster management; infrastructure; research and knowledge management; mitigation and low-carbon development; and capacity building and institution strengthening.

“This is an open-ended document in the making, not a finished product,” Prof Nishat clarifies. “Low-carbon growth is an important component. We hope to add people’s responses to the projects listed under each theme.”

The new government, headed by Sheikh Hasina, has instituted a task force to review these activities. “She has strengthened the political commitment to tackle climate change,” he says. “It was in her election manifesto.”

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Zakir Shaila Says:

    Dear Darryl D’Monte,
    It’s a wonderful piece of support, viewed the problems and struggle with the eye of a local victimised people. Thank you Darryl. It will be nice if you please permit us to put it onto our networks including the blog:
    If you have some time to invest, please see our fotobased movie on youtube:

    Looking forward to hear you from.


    Krisoker Saar (Farmers’ Voice)

  2. Stephen Klaber Says:

    The most direct attack on our climate problems is the control of aquatic weeds such as the mentioned water hyacinth. Aquatic weeds turn open waters into “wetlands”, then grasslands. The process is called hydrosere. It has been drastically accelerated by pollution and by overuse of our waters. Every fluctuation in water level favors weeds. Each dam or irrigation project creates places where weeds of one sort or another will flourish. The weeds drastically increase evapotranspiration, reducing the water available. They also produce large quantities of silt, that build up the stream and lake beds so that they lose contact with the groundwater and dry up, leaving the aquifers no place to be replenished. This is the heart of desertification. And those weeds are all harvestable biomass, some of it fit for human consumption. But aquatic weeds like toxic chemicals, and hoard them. Otherwise, they would be the solution to the world’s food shortages. In your land, some of them may have arsenic contamination. Other than that, what isn’t fit for human consumption can be made into fuel. The less water lost to weeds, the more water available for farms and cups.

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