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Bangladesh has been often called the ground zero of climate change.
Geographically located at one of the world’s largest deltas, with more tropical cyclones occurring than any other country, means that its population of 163 million deal with the impacts brought on by the changing climate every day. On World Environment Day 2021, we look at five examples from BRAC on how to adapt to climate change.
Bangladesh’s unique geographical position and high population density makes it vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. It also gives it a head start in climate change adaptation.
Here are some examples from BRAC:
Helping cities adapt
Dhaka is where many cities will be in 20 years. Rapid urbanisation and increased push migration affects demand on resources such as energy, jobs and water. The rise in population leads to overcrowding (particularly in informal settlements), which puts a strain on existing infrastructure such as drainage systems and water facilities.
BRAC, through its urban development programme, works across cities and towns in Bangladesh to adapt to the challenges brought on by push migration, much of which is invariably influenced by climate change.
When BRAC intervenes in communities with weak communication routes, roads and sidewalks are constructed keeping climatic impacts in purview. Erosion, floods and intensified heavy rains are considered in the construction of facilities.
Of the total 16,487 feet roads and 627,751 feet sidewalks built by the urban development programme – sidewalks were raised to the highest level of flooding; expansion joints were maintained to protect from excessive heat; high quality construction materials were used to protect against erosion and floods. The roads and sidewalks have provided easy communication for the people living in these low-income communities.
To address water logging, salinity intrusion and liquid waste, low-income families are supported with drainage facilities. Strong bricks are used to construct guide walls to protect against erosion and floods, and the drains are raised to the maximum flood levels incurred in history. A slope is maintained to wash the water out. Till date, the urban development programme has supported 35,290 households across 20 cities by constructing 121 drains of total 61,528 feet length.
Adaptation in haors
Haors are hard to reach, wetland areas which are shaped like bowls. They are submerged in water for half of the year, when the villages look like tiny islands. When communities are frequently inundated, children’s education often takes a back seat – less than 1% of students finish high school in the haor regions.
BRAC’s boat schools offer a unique response to the challenge of education in the haors – if students cannot go to schools, let the schools float to them.
Boat schools were first introduced in the haors of north-eastern Bangladesh in 2011, and were scaled across Bangladesh in other hard-to-reach and flood prone regions, where children often lack access to state-run schools. They have also been replicated in the Philippines, helping children living in the coastlines access education.
Pockets of extreme poverty are particularly prevalent in the haor regions, with reduced access to basic services, infrastructure and economic opportunities. Recurring natural hazards and shifting climatic patterns exacerbate living conditions of communities which live there.
BRAC supports communities in building village development organisations, which act as community-led one-stop service centres, connecting people to services such as water and hygiene facilities, livelihood security and climate change adaptation. These groups help communities interpret their climatic hazards, measure their level of vulnerability and help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.
These organisations regularly convene with members from the community and discuss how they can adapt with the changing climate better; members are trained on the do’s and dont’s during lightning, flash floods, cyclones, and cover topics such as importance of cultivating early rice varieties and technologies. Village development organisations also receive early warning messages, and help disseminate among the communities nearby.
To adapt to the changing nature of climate change as well as ensure nutrition for families, participants of BRAC’s integrated development programme – which works specifically with communities in hard-to-reach areas – have begun to garden around their homes in bags, sacks, and on the sides of their homes where the floor is made of soil. They receive training on homestead gardening with climate-resilience varieties and technologies, such as the sack and pyramid method, dike cropping and trellis farming. Homestead gardening also helps to increase the families’ incomes, by allowing them to sell the vegetables to neighbours and local markets.
A major climatic event can set back years of progress made by a family. The Ultra-Poor Graduation Programme, which focuses on targeted interventions to support people ‘graduate’ out of extreme poverty – ensures that the enterprise options given to participants are customised to their environmental needs. For instance, duck rearing is encouraged in areas where water is available whereas goat rearing is encouraged for dry areas.
All solutions are catered to the climatic needs of the participants – for example, in southern areas, when cattle houses need to be added to the house as a result of the enterprise, they are set up with elevated plinths, and made with corrugated iron sheets for roofs so that storms cannot blow them away.
BRAC’s microfinance programme helps farmers adapt to the changing crop cycle through seasonal loans. The convenient repayment scheme includes a two-month grace period, which allows farmers flexibility to invest and harvest in different crops for each season.
Water solution for the coastal belt
In the coastal areas of Bangladesh, climate change is manifesting in the form of intensified cyclones, storm surges, and sea-level rise. This is accelerating saltwater intrusion into the fresh water resources of the coastal belt. High salinity is adversely affecting the availability and quality of drinking water. BRAC is helping people adapt to this change through rainwater harvesting.
The coastal region of Bangladesh receives approximately 2,900mm rainfall every year, making rainwater harvesting a potential solution to fulfil the water demand in this region. Rainwater harvesting is the collection and storage of rain drops. This initiative is helping households living in the coastal region ensure year-round, safe, reliable and climate-resilient drinking water.
Intensified cyclones cause tidal surges strong enough to wipe out entire facilities and homes. BRAC provides climate-resilient housing support to low-income families living in cyclone prone areas.
Climate-resilient homes are built to withstand storms and heavy winds. Their plinth level – the foundation of the house – is elevated to the historical flood levels, so during floods and storm surges, the house stands above the water level. The angle maintained between the roof and lintel allows the houses to protect families from strong winds and cyclones of up to 250 kilometres per hour.
The roof is made of strong wooden frames instead of traditional bamboo structures. Families living in these homes are protected from heavy rainfall and storms, due to the corrugated galvanised iron sheets in the roof are well connected with the superstructure of the house.
BRAC builds these homes for families who live in climate-vulnerable locations, and are particularly vulnerable to the shocks brought on by climate change – selection is done based on vulnerability level and focuses on low-income families with persons with disabilities, elderly and women-headed households.
These low-cost resilient houses also help the communities in which they are built, as they double as a safe house for other families to shelter in during natural disasters.
While the world is beginning to think what recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will look like, climate change continues to remain an existential threat. In Bangladesh, the fight against climate change has already begun.
Luba Khalili is Communications Portfolio Lead for the emergency, humanitarian and climate change cluster at BRAC Communications.