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With global warming set to intensify in the next decade, climate change adaptation is vital. The new normal must incorporate resilience at the heart of community, infrastructure, planning and policymaking. What would housing look like in the future? Here’s an example from Bangladesh, a country that is already facing the impacts of a warming climate.
Floods and cyclones are the most common natural disasters in Bangladesh, a low-lying country situated in a delta. Naturally, the country has had to adapt.
Existing challenges are worsening however, with the rising impacts of climate change. Cyclones have intensified – severe cyclonic storms are affecting Bangladesh every year.
Last year, Bangladeshi coasts were hit by a super cyclone, uprooting the lives of 2.6 million people. The year before that, Cyclone Fani had wind gusts of up to 127mph, affecting thousands of people. Cyclone Titli, in 2018, caused landslides in southern Bangladesh, killing at least four people.
Following a catastrophic cyclone of 1991, the Government of Bangladesh initiated a project to construct multi-purpose cyclone shelters. In 2010, the World Bank estimated that more than 5,500 cyclone shelters needed to be constructed, as part of Bangladesh’s disaster management strategy.
Three decades later, the number of cyclone shelters still remain inadequate. As of 2020, approximately 3,770 multipurpose cyclone shelters have been established in Bangladesh. During disasters, an additional 12,000 infrastructures are used as informal shelters.
As climatic impacts worsen, approaches which worked before may not address the increased risk and vulnerability for people who live in climatic hotspots. The existing multipurpose cyclone shelters can accommodate 5.1 million people, leaving 15 million people in the coastal areas vulnerable to storms.
People face other challenges – cyclone shelters are often located far away from communities, as far as five kilometres in some cases. Amidst heavy storms, families are naturally reluctant to travel the distance to reach shelters. Many lose their lives attempting.
Climate-resilient houses: A sustainable approach to resilient housing
With increased natural disasters such as heat waves, drought, and floods, there has been a need for a more sustainable solution than the multi-purpose facilities. When disasters strike, people prefer taking shelter near their own homes, such as at their neighbour’s house, primarily because they do not want to leave their property completely unattended.
Travelling to a distant location amidst a violent storm also comes with the risk of losing lives. Climate-resilient homes, built by BRAC’s climate change programme for participants of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation programme and clients of microfinance, are built to protect communities during disasters.
Climate-resilient houses double as mini cyclone shelters. Throughout the year, these are home for families living in the coastal areas of southern Bangladesh. During disasters, they shelter multiple families – each house accommodating up to 42 people and their livestock.
They are built to withstand extreme weather events such as cyclones of wind speed of up to 250 kilometres per hour and the average recorded tidal surges of the past century. Best of all, because they are situated within communities, families do not have to travel long distances to reach a safe place.
Climate-resilient houses serve as a cost-effective disaster preparedness strategy.
By withstanding extreme weather, the houses enhance a community’s resilience through protecting their assets, infrastructure and livelihoods. In addition, they are cost-effective – an analysis shows that 32 climate-resilient houses can be built with the same cost as that of one multipurpose cyclone shelter.
A few of these houses had been constructed when the super cyclone Amphan hit the coast last year, and they had provided shelter to more than 100 people and their livestock. Since then, more climate-resilient houses have been constructed. The Government of Bangladesh and non-governmental organisations have begun taking interest in scaling up such a model to a national level.
Climate change induced disasters have intensified worldwide. Between 1979 and 2017, strong tropical cyclones (wind speeds of 115 miles per hour or more) became 15% more likely at the global level. The latest report by IPCC indicates the coming decades will see even more intensified cyclones. This puts the 15 million people still vulnerable to disasters at an even more vulnerable position, risking them to more frequent and severe losses to such crises.
The latest IPCC report published in 2021 ends with a message of hope – that a collective effort to curb carbon dioxide emissions can at least help stabilise the climate. For the coastal populations of Bangladesh, however, the perils of global warming are already omnipresent, regularly causing the loss of property and assets as well the loss of lives.
Climate-resilient housing offers an effective prevention of both, taking a community-based approach. In the face of ever-frequent climate disasters, coastal communities in Bangladesh find resilience and protection in these houses.
Tahmina Hadi is Deputy Manager, Research, BRAC Climate Change Programme. Raidah Morshed is an Intern, BRAC Communications.
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.