Reading Time: 3 minutes
Young people have the most at stake in the climate crisis but their representation in climate leadership and decision making is still negligible. With one-fourth of the population of Bangladesh belonging to the 15-29 age-group, it’s high time their voices on climate crisis are heard and their suggestions heeded. Local conversations on safe water seems like just the perfect platform to start developing local youth leadership on climate change.
“Some say nature hates us and having to drink salt water is our punishment,” says Wasim Biswas in a steely voice as he explains the extent of misinformation he has to tackle regarding the water crisis in his community at Mongla in the southwest of Bangladesh.
Wasim, a local water activist and a second year student at a technical institute, lives in the small port town of Mongla which has been facing a chronic crisis of safe water for decades now. All the groundwater sources of the region are contaminated by saltwater, leaving rain-water harvesting as the only source of drinking water. Ponds work as primitive rain-water harvesting mechanisms but they get more and more saline as the dry-season approaches.
One in three people in Mongla municipality get their drinking water from the public water taps of the municipal corporation. That water is basically collected from these ponds. Nearly all of the people say that they treat that water before drinking but an immersive observation found that’s hardly the case.
They mostly drink that water without treatment because every family is rationed two pitchers of water per day. They cannot afford to ‘waste’ the water that would be lost to evaporation if they boiled the water to kill off the microbes.
Now, who is responsible for this shortage of safe water?
The climate crisis is. But for people living on the edge in terms of access to information, many tend to find someone to blame among themselves.
Wasim is working with his community to fight against the misbelief that when nature hates a certain family, it forces upon them the curse of having to live off saline water.
“I try to raise awareness among locals against such misbeliefs. Such curses don’t exist. I have seen freshwater becoming scarcer and salinity intrusion increased in the ponds but that doesn’t mean it’s because of some supernatural intervention,” said Wasim.
“People need to associate this water crisis with the climate crisis. Climate change is real and it is happening now. Though we can’t see it, we surely are reeling from its impacts and I work to make people aware of that,” said Wasim.
Translating global ideas into local action
“Winters are very harsh here (in Mongla). During winter, the water crisis exacerbates and water in the ponds becomes murky and saline. It’s not uncommon to see livestock and humans using water from the same pond for drinking,” said Md Enamul Sheikh.
Enamul, an 18-year-old student from Mongla, has long witnessed his community suffering from chronic shortages of safe water. In his quest for safe drinking water, Enamul took to the internet and soon found simple water treatment processes which can be replicated in Mongla.
Intrigued and motivated, on his way home from college, Enamul collected pebbles, sand, and charcoal for a water filtration experiment. Building on promising results from the initial experiment, Enamul is now on a mission to build better water filtration systems.
Like Enamul, many youths are now accessing information through online videos and social media platforms to get guidance on such frugal innovations.
BRAC’s Climate Change programme has taken up initiative to mobilise youth and engage them in the activities, raising awareness of climate change and the importance of safe drinking water.
“Voices of the youth on climate change have never been more important than now. They adapt to climate change by using their knowledge and their resources. Their contribution to the resilience of their communities can be significant. Youths can be climate advocates and climate leaders with ideas of climate justice and climate research for fostering innovative solutions in their communities.” said Md Liakath Ali, Director, Climate Change Programme at BRAC.
People closest to the climate crisis are also the closest to solutions. With the youth having the most at stake in the fight against the climate crisis, their voices need to be heard and it needs to start from the ground where the crisis is unfolding.
BRAC Climate Change Programme’s (CCP) integrated approach addresses climate change impacts, using adaptation measures, through BRAC’s development initiatives. CCP’s work protects resources, improves quality of life, and builds awareness about the environment in communities in rural and urban settings. CCP provides people with access to the tools and knowledge to adapt and respond to adverse climatic impacts and adopt sustainable practises to combat impending climatic impacts.
Shadma Malik is Senior Specialist, Knowledge Management and Communications, Climate Change Programme (CCP) at BRAC