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Tackling the effects of climate change in Bangladesh

Updated Monday 7th December 2009

Mariam Rashid talks about the vital work being done in Bangladesh, by organisations such as Prodipan.

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Mariam talks about steps that can be taken to minimise the problems caused by cyclones.

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Mariam: Prodipan has been working in Chakaria area for the past six to seven years doing different sorts of activities, which include social development, education, awareness raising, human rights and now it's focusing on climate change problems because it's so integrated within the lifestyle of the people.

Like one activity is taking the old school buildings and making them infrastructurally more strong to survive cyclones and actually act as a cyclone shelter in that area.

The toilets have been improved and increased so that when it works as a cyclone shelter, they'd still have these facilities and now they've built a new tank on the roof which works as a rain water collection facility which provides the area with fresh water. And other than that the school children are being given training on what climate change is, what do to when a disaster happens, how to look after yourself, how to look after your family, what do you do when you face health problems during cyclones like lack of water, diarrhoea and snake bite? And these are the trainings which are given to kids and hopefully they are taking it back to their families, and learning and teaching them as well.

Voiceover: And as well as training people to help them survive the direct effects of climate change, efforts are continuing to help people adapt economically too.

Mariam: There has been new livelihood activities to generate income among the rural communities, which there was never before. That actually has a lot of economical benefit for Bangladesh as well, like within the coastal areas, because saline water is intruding, people are going for crab farming and people in Bangladesh do not eat crab, and this is done mostly as an export item. So in a way they're earning revenues and they have an alternate livelihood to look forward to.

So if the salinity increases, they actually have something to fall back on. They still have the food, they still have the revenue from selling their products.

But these are small things and ultimately more needs to be done, not only at the national level, at the international level as well because adaptation cannot keep up with the amount of change that is happening, or will happen in the future.

Mariam explains the problems caused by the intrusion of saline water and methods for educating the population.

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Mariam: Unfortunately, we do not have like, regular measures of salinisation is not done. People get it from decrease in crop that is being grown or the amount of biodiversity that is being lost with trees dying, fishes not surviving in ponds, that’s how they say salinity is increasing.

But scientific tests on salinity is not carried out at individual village levels in that area, so we cannot quantify how much saline water is intruding and how much it is increasing. But from what we found out that due to the last cyclone, last month, there has been quite a lot of storm surge and the saline water has intruded quite a lot into that area, as it happens after a cyclone. So, what will happen is only going to get worse.

Voiceover: But despite the lack of scientific measurements of salinity, local expert knowledge can be a useful source of information.

Mariam: The good thing about these areas is if you go and ask them: could you tell me what is going on? They will actually give you a timeline of what exactly is going on, they will say: "We had this amount of rain 15 years ago, now we don’t." You ask them technical terms, they cannot tell you but you ask them, please describe what is going on and they will tell you exactly.

They will tell you how much there has been decrease in crop yield, how much fisheries has gone down, how much the salinity had intruded in one year and how much is it in the next year. They have that knowledge, but they don’t know why this is happening, so having these awareness raising programmes are so important because they know what to expect in the future and they can plan accordingly.

And giving them a bit of help goes a long way because they are so resilient living in these conditions and surviving in these conditions.

And since there is a lack of electricity, there is no television, no radios, they have formulated these little plays and these little songs, and they have these posters with nice, beautiful pictures and charts that show what is going on. And they are taking it from village to village, community to community, showing people, teaching them what is going on.

And in some villages the rural women are bought together and they are given a very good drilling in what to expect from climate change, what are their vulnerabilities, what they can do and even how to be disaster management experts.

Mariam discusses the projects and policies aimed at minimising the problems caused by cyclones.

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Mariam: The Government of Bangladesh has actually been quite active and they have set a few good examples on what to do for climate change.

Most recently, last year in 2008 September, the Bangladesh Government has published its first ever climate change strategy and action plan, which looks at climate change from national level. And before that there was no separate climate change policy or strategy or anything like that.

And also in November 2008, the Bangladesh Government completed its national sustainable development strategy and climate change has been included in all the sectors as a cross cutting issue, and the most forward step the government has taken is to realise that climate change is not only an environmental issue, it is a very severe development issue for Bangladesh as well.

And as such most of the programmes now, whether it's environment programmes, development programmes, programmes guided towards society, and human rights and equality, climate change comes in at some point, so that is good for the country.

Voiceover: One of the biggest development issues for Bangladesh is the internal displacement of people due to climate change. As well as other factors which contribute to people moving from rural areas to towns and cities. Climate change is now making it very difficult for people to survive in some coastal areas, as well as in some parts of northern Bangladesh due to floods from the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Mariam: Environment or climate migration has already started in Bangladesh. It probably started more than ten years from now, because after cyclones people are so vulnerable, they lose their homes, they lose their cattle, they lose their livelihoods, and sometimes it’s easier for them to pack up and go somewhere else in search of a job, than trying to rebuild their lives.

This rural/urban migration is huge in Bangladesh; 77 per cent right now are rural population but by 2050 it will fall to 57 per cent and the growth rate in urban population is going up. And also the poverty level in urban population is rising significantly.

So these are the environmental disasters that make people move, because they have no other choice, but interventions and help can actually decrease the migration until the government can find a better solution. The government can ensure that when a flood happens, before the flood happens, they can ensure that these, there is enough water supply and food supply for the people. There’s enough seed in the seed banks so that as soon as the water recedes, the people can start planting again and enough fertilisers. These incentives that will stop people from leaving their homes and migrating.

Voiceover: National adaptation initiatives, which are aimed at decreasing the severity of the impact of climate change are continuing too.

Mariam: The IPCC has said cyclone intensity is actually getting stronger. And in the coastal areas suffers the most. But this time we have realised like the Sundarban Forest acts as a belt, a barrier that actually protects the people on the other side, because it absorbs most of the impact of the cyclones.

So that’s why one of the major projects in the coastal area is coastal reforestation which will act as a shelter, a barrier for the people in the face of storm surges and cyclones. And that is a programme that the government is really looking into and it's already being implemented in the coastal regions.

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