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Dhaka Saturday,  Dec 16, 2017

Climate Change Adaptation And Development In Bangladesh: Social Dimensions In Focus

By Towrin Zaman, Lamisa Gias, Tamara Tabassum, Shahrin Mannan & Khaled Arafat

Climate change has become one of the most debated topics of this century because of the increasing risk it poses to the sustenance of human race. This change influences long term footprints and also sudden extreme events like storms, floods, droughts of severe frequency and magnitudes, both of which immensely affect agriculture and infrastructure. To tackle these extreme events both adaptation and mitigation is important, especially for a least developed country like Bangladesh which is one of most vulnerable when it comes to climate change. The process of adaptation presents significant challenges to development not only because of the financial costs of adaptation, but also because failure to adapt will incur significant losses and damages. The World Adaptation Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has committed spent USD 462 million in 73 countries since 2010 to climate change adaptation and resilience activities.
Current development practices are based on fossil fuel driven economic growth and this growth is termed as development as usual. It is important to bring the social dimensions of adaptation and vulnerability into development practices instead of only focusing on fossil fuel driven growth. The adaptation policies that have been applied till date have only stressed on technical interventions and capacity-building programmers aimed at reducing storms, floods and droughts. It is now being mainstreamed into health, education, governance, agriculture, infrastructure and many other fields. ‘Development as usual’ ignores factors such as interests, power relations and structural factors. Adaptation is more than a set of projects aimed to reduce impacts on climate change. It is a social process that empowers individuals, households, communities, institutions and states.
Climate change is a new development issue. Rising sea levels in Bangladesh will overrun its coast and river erosion will destroy land homes.  Unique geographic location, dominance of floodplains, low elevation from the sea, high population density, high levels of poverty and overwhelming dependence on nature are reasons why climate change will leave a damaging impact on the economy. It is estimated that rising sea levels will displace 18 million Bangladeshis within the next 40 years. This will be a mammoth challenge for the government to find places to live and work for the people.  One-fifth of the country will be covered in water if sea-levels rise by a merely 3.2 feet. In case of Bangladesh, emphasis should be placed on disaster-management, institutional and infrastructure strengthening, development of research and low carbon technologies. As the population is increasing and rapid industrialization is taking place, Bangladesh should be on its way to developing a low-carbon path. However, financial and technical support from the international community is necessary to accomplish that. It is important to adjust priorities and trade policies while also promoting training and education among the youth population.

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Diversified actors are involved in providing financing support to strengthen adaptive initiatives. GCF (Green Climate Fund), LDCF (Least Developed Countries Fund), SCCF (Special Climate Change Fund) etc. is providing funds to tackle climate change impacts through adaptation. Adaptation Fund is another provision which is the financial instrument under UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. Community Based Adaptation Programme is an important component which provides insights of location specific and community managed mitigation measures. Bangladesh is one of those 10 countries which are implementing 5 projects as a part of UNDP’s Community Based Adaptation Programme. But these efforts are largely spread by the NGOs, for example – in the floodplains of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Centre of Advanced Studies is helping farmers in growing vegetables on meshes of bamboo filled with soil that can float when flood strikes. In coastal communities where rising seas are contaminating drinking water, the NGO Caritas is working with local people to capture rainwater. Adaptation projects funded through Global Environment Fund includes soft measures such as- skill transfer, providing information etc. But adaptation is merely not about minimizing climate impacts but also addressing system risks embedded into current development pathways. It is a social process that requires attention to the structures that influence vulnerability and calls for greater attention to the beliefs, values, worldviews etc.

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Bangladesh needs to focus on building a long term adaptive capacity that embeds a structural change to the social processes. This capacity is crucial for dealing with the vulnerability context which refers to the shocks climate change causes to people’s livelihoods. The rural communities are the most vulnerable to these shocks. So, adaptation is often targeted at local level. However, for effective capacity building, the gap between local level strategies and national policy making should be bridged. Adaptive policies being uniform throughout the country are counterproductive. For example, the coastal regions of Bangladesh are plagued by high salinity levels of rivers while the central regions are prone to floods. So, adaptive policies of these regions cannot fundamentally be same. These regions need adaptation strategies unique to the nature of their vulnerabilities. While such area-specific initiatives have been taken in small scales, the local governments need to start working on expanding these schemes.
Local government needs strengthening and should invite local engagement in coming up with strategies to combat vulnerability context. Researchers and experts need to be assigned to every community to work on new technologies locally. However, these initiatives are limited due to several financial and resource constraints. That is why our government is depending on multilevel governance approaches like New Government Management which constitutes alliance with NGOs and other social actors. The CBACC project which was completed in 2015 is a big instance of such collaboration between Bangladesh Government, UNDP, Netherlands Embassy and Swiss SDC. This project included large-scale coastal afforestation, training of government workers on building adaptive capacity and livelihood diversification program. Diversification of livelihood is another effective measure in dealing with vulnerability context.  However, diversification can also lead to negative externalities.  For example, some farmers in Gazipur have started greenhouse farming while others in coastal regions have switched to shrimp farming, both of which, while providing short-term solutions, only help exacerbate the climate change effects. Positive spillovers exist too. Sidr, one of the worst tropical disasters to hit Bangladesh was an event that led to diversification. Many agricultural laborers started delving into non-agricultural day labor. There was also an increase in the rate of internal migration.
The case of Sidr is a supreme example of how extreme events can affect the livelihoods of people. The survivors of Sidr were forced to substantially change their lifestyle – having to leave their lands and living behind to start over. Decisions such as these come in the absence of sufficient adaptive capacity. Building such capacity requires delving deep into the roots of climate change. The encompassing realities of climate change are very complex. There is no singular action that can swiftly resolve this issue. It requires a combination of holistic approaches addressing institutional and individual behavioral aspects toward adaptation and mitigation policies. While the progress Bangladesh has made in its endeavor to adapt to climate change is commendable, the battle is only going to get tougher and hackles need to be raised further.

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