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One in seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced due to climate change by 2050. The geographical location of the country already makes it vulnerable to climatic hazards, and the impacts of climate change have compounded these vulnerabilities. BRAC has been taking both mitigation and adaptation measures in response to the changing climate. Here is a snapshot of some of the ways BRAC is putting the Earth first.
BRAC started in Bangladesh, as a response to the Bhola Cyclone in 1970.
Bangladesh is situated on the world’s biggest delta, with more than 700 rivers crossing the land. The environment is closely tied to the lives and livelihoods of its people. For the past 49 years, BRAC has prioritised the climate in its programming, focusing on supporting people to both mitigate and adapt to changes.
With the impacts of climate change increasingly affecting even more people more severely, our climate change efforts have significantly strengthened.
Here is a snapshot of nine ways BRAC is addressing the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh:
1. Going green within the organisation
BRAC has banned the use of single-use plastic in the organisation’s premises across Bangladesh. This initiative has been implemented at BRAC’s head office since November 2019, and in all its 3,600 branch offices since January 2020.
Additionally, the organisation is converting all the lights in the head office and branch offices to LED bulbs, to reduce energy consumption and lower the overall carbon footprint.
A course on climate change awareness has been created for all BRAC staff, to ensure that everyone in the organisation understands what climate change is, how it affects the environment and livelihoods, and what every staff member can do, in their work and out of work, to reduce their carbon footprint.
2. Resilient architecture
Low-cost, climate-resilient houses by BRAC’s urban development programme support low-income communities in urban areas. Cement blocks and recycled materials are used during construction instead of bricks, and rain casements conserve water. Solar home systems, solar powered water pumps and street lights promote renewable energy.
Disaster-resilient houses by BRAC’s climate change programme ensure safety during natural disasters in regions with high climate vulnerability. The houses are able to withstand wind speeds of up to 250km per hour, are constructed at a level higher than the average height of tidal waves, and have their own rainwater harvesting system and sanitation facilities. Each can house 35-40 people during extreme climatic events.
3. Climate change education
Students begin learning about the environment and how to protect it starting from pre-primary school. BRAC’s education programme has introduced a special curriculum called ‘Climate Change and Environmental Awareness Education’ for students in pre-primary and secondary schools to educate and raise awareness on climate change issues, while equipping them to contribute to keeping the environment safe.
The students engage in activity-based learning on topics including recycling, waste management, disaster resilience, tree plantation and water conservation.
4. Treatment plant for infrastructure
Bangladesh’s first large-scale bamboo treatment plant was set up in November 2018, to address the increasing demand for bamboo, a vital material for infrastructure in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. The treatment process increases the lifespan of bamboo from approximately four years to 10-15 years.
5. Digitisation of microfinance services
BRAC’s microfinance programme is piloting an app-based client service platform to better support its eight million clients in Bangladesh. Through this service, 80% of the loan paperwork is done digitally, reaching 75,000 clients in the country. The pilot started in 2018, and is currently being implemented in 164 branches across Bangladesh. Additionally, 12 microfinance branches are set to go paperless by the end of June 2021.
6. Smart water solutions in coastal areas
The prevalence of cyclones, storm surges, and sea-level rise fuel saltwater intrusion into the freshwater resources of the coastal belt of Bangladesh, reducing the availability and quality of drinking water. At the same time, increased installation of deep tube-wells reduce the level of freshwater underground.
To ensure safe drinking water without negatively affecting the environment, BRAC’s climate change and water, sanitation and hygiene programmes are working with two sustainable solutions – rainwater harvesting and reverse osmosis.
7. Seasonal loans
BRAC’s microfinance programme offers seasonal loans to farmers to allow them to harvest different crops for each season. This scheme, which is being piloted, provides the farmers with the flexibility to invest and repay as needed to cope with changing climate conditions, and is currently available in 74 branch offices covering 24 regions in Bangladesh.
8. Disaster-resilient marker tool
Designed by BRAC’s humanitarian programme, the disaster-resilient marker tool assesses whether a programme is resilient enough to sustain a project during crises, without impacting the programme participants. It also identifies whether a project is harmful to the environment, depletes local resources, or contributes largely to carbon footprint. If the interventions do pose a threat to the environment, the tool helps to identify whether the project will be resilient long-term.
9. Climate Bridge Fund
The Climate Bridge Fund is a direct climate financing mechanism to support organisations working with people who have been or are at risk of being displaced by the impacts of climate change. Established by BRAC with support from the Government of Germany through KfW, the fund supports small projects from local non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh to respond to people who have been displaced by the impacts of climate change.
Individuals, organisations and governments all have a role in environmental impact, in every decision we all make. We are all seeing the effects of climate change globally, and it is up to all of us to take action on it. Adaptation, mitigation, building resilience and reducing carbon footprint are all part of the climate action needed for an equitable world.
Miftahul Jannat Chowdhury is Content Specialist, Luba Khalili is Communications Portfolio Lead for the emergency, humanitarian and climate change cluster, and Asif Mustafa is Communications Specialist at BRAC Communications.