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Sat. May 25, 2024
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Bangladesh: A Journey from Vulnerability to Resilience to Prosperity
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Bangladesh, ranked as the seventh most extreme disaster risk-prone country in the world according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, confronts multifaceted challenges stemming from both natural disasters and climate change (Eckstein et al., 2021). Despite contributing a mere 0.56% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the country faces the seventh-worst impact of extreme weather, as highlighted by the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 (Parveen et al., 2023). Its geographical vulnerabilities as a deltaic and coastal nation exacerbate the risks of increased temperatures, river flooding, rising sea levels, and intensified tropical cyclones. Such environmental effects of climate change impact critical areas such as food production, livelihoods, urban zones, and infrastructure.

The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (6AR) underscores the imminent threats from sea-level rise predicting that for every 0.44 to 2m mean sea level rise, 0.7 to 2.1 million people will be forced to migrate due to direct inundation by 2100 (IPCC, 2022). This report, reveals that approximately 26 million people in coastal Bangladesh are exposed to very high salinity in shallow groundwater due to sea level rise. Moreover, low-lying coastal aquifers suffer from contamination due to factors including land-use change, rising sea levels, reduced stream flows, and increased storm surge inundation. The Indo-Gangetic Basin indicates that sustainable groundwater supplies face constraints primarily from contamination rather than depletion. Over the period from 2012 to 2050, the freshwater river area in the southwest coastal zone is anticipated to decline by more than half, from 40.8% to 17.1%. Climate change exacerbates the risk of floods, droughts, and salinity intrusions in Bangladesh, causing destructive impacts on crop yields. The agricultural sector is particularly susceptible to significant yield reductions: Floods in 2017 washed away summer paddy crops, causing a 30% year-on-year increase in rice prices. Farmers in Bangladesh, grappling with severe droughts, increasingly relying on additional irrigation methods. Furthermore, salinity intrusions into freshwater aquaculture systems jeopardize fisheries production, contributing to non-economic losses associated with involuntary migration and childhood malnutrition.

Additional irrigation is exacerbating groundwater depletion and escalating fuel costs for pumping and electricity consumption (Mottaleb et al., 2019). The nation irrigated approximately 55.87 lakh hectares of land in 2018-19 (Prima,2021). Currently, irrigation in Bangladesh primarily relies on two methods: groundwater irrigation, accounting for about 73% of irrigated land, and surface water irrigation, constituting about 27%. Various irrigation techniques are employed, including deep tube wells, shallow tube wells, low-lift pumps, manual and artesian wells, gravity flow systems, solar pumps, dug wells, and traditional methods. To address these challenges, Bangladesh is adopting new strategies such as well digging, rainwater conservation, promoting low-water consumption crops, implementing rubber dams, re-excavating ponds, and integrating solar power for irrigation purposes.

Bangladesh is actively advancing its climate resilience efforts through the implementation of several initiatives (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of Bangladesh, n.d.). This includes updating the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC); finalizing the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP); formulating the National Adaptation Plan (NAP); and implementing the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan 2022-2041 (MCPP) and Delta Plan 2100. The BCCSAP of 2009 marked Bangladesh as the first developing country to establish a comprehensive climate action plan. In 2011, the Bangladesh government made significant progress by incorporating a constitutional directive mandating the State to protect the environment and natural resources for both current and future generations. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has played a pivotal role in these endeavors, earning recognition as one of the winners of the United Nations Champions of the Earth award in 2015 (United Nations Environment Programme, n.d.). The award acknowledges Bangladesh's proactive measures in addressing climate change, and the UN Environment Programme commended Prime Minister Hasina for demonstrating that investments in climate action can catalyze social and economic development, particularly in one of the world's least-developed countries (United Nations, 2015).

The nation is making remarkable strides, shifting from a climate-vulnerable state to a climate-resilient one. The declining death toll from cyclones in Bangladesh, spanning from the catastrophic November 1970 cyclone that claimed around 500,000 lives, to more recent events such as Cyclone Sidr in 2007 with approximately 3,400 deaths, Cyclone Alia in 2009 with about 190 deaths, and the comparatively lower toll of 26 deaths from Cyclone Amphan, underscores the nation's significant strides in disaster preparedness (Kelman & Ahmed, 2020). This positive trend can be attributed to advancements in forecasting, robust early warning systems, and effective evacuation measures. These offer valuable insights for global efforts to bolster resilience against the escalating risks of extreme weather events.

In addition to formulating and implementing comprehensive long-term policies, Bangladesh has taken a multifaceted approach to enhance disaster resilience and adaptability to climate change (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of Bangladesh, n.d.). The most notable initiatives include:

  1.  The Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP), initiated by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, boasts 76,020 volunteers, half of whom are women, dedicated to disaster risk reduction (DRR). In addition, 46,000 urban volunteers focus on urban safety and resilience.
  2. Along the coast, 4,530 Cyclone Shelters and 320 Flood Shelters have been constructed, with an additional 393 Flood Shelters currently in progress. The creation of 550 Mujib Killa, specifically designed raised lands, offers refuge for people and livestock during cyclones and tidal surges. An innovative step includes the development of 60 Multipurpose Rescue Boats tailored for persons with disabilities.
  3. The establishment of 66 Disaster Relief Warehouse-cum-Disaster Information Centers reinforces the country's preparedness. Furthermore, a network of 18 community radio stations has been set up, specifically catering to coastal communities and fishermen. Leveraging technology, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems provide weather updates and early warnings, facilitating anticipatory actions to reduce loss and damage.
  4. Noteworthy projects such as the “Khurushkul Ashrayan Project,” recognized as one of the world's largest housing initiatives for climate refugees in Cox’s Bazar, involves the construction of 139 five-story buildings equipped with modern facilities, offering shelter to 4,409 climate refugee families. Under the “Ashrayan” project, the government has provided homes to 442,608 families, emphasizing not only disaster resilience but also incorporating mitigation measures such as 1.5 million tree plantations, rainwater harvesting, solar home systems, and improved cook stoves.
  5. To fortify climate resilience and disaster risk reduction, the government has executed significant initiatives, including 726 km of river-bank protection, 2,123 km of river excavation and dredging, 1,266 km of embankment construction, and excavation/re-excavation of 181 km of irrigation canals and 499 km of drainage canals in the last decade.
  6. Proactive measures extend to environmental conservation, as evidenced by the plantation of 5.4 million palm trees to mitigate the risk of lightning-related fatalities.
  7. Coastal polders (low-lying land surrounded by earthen embankments) were built in the early 1950s and 1960s to prevent saline water from spilling onto land during high tides. Approximately 1.2 million hectares of land have been recovered through the establishment of 139 operational polders in the coastal region of Bangladesh (Ministry of Water Resources of Bangladesh, 2022). This initiative aims to enhance agricultural productivity and ensure the safety of lives and livelihoods for the communities residing in the coastal areas.
  8. Embracing innovative practices, floating agriculture has been implemented. This uses water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds to create floating beds for growing vegetables and spices while supporting fish production in the open water beneath. In 210 villages, 12,900 floating vegetable beds have been established.
  9. Additionally, the utilization of vetiver for road construction underscores the nation's commitment to sustainable and resilient development (Local Government Engineering Department of Bangladesh, 2021)

 

Bangladesh's holistic and forward-thinking approach serves as a commendable model for addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change.

Bangladesh has showcased greater resilience, innovation, and a commitment to sustainability. It is time for the rest of the world to step forward and make their due contributions to this global effort. The inspiring story of Bangladesh's journey provides a roadmap for a collective and impactful response to the challenges of climate change.

Inspired by Bangladesh's success, the world must collectively accelerate action against climate change. We can achieve this by operationalizing the Global Goal on Adaptation, adopted at COP 28, with a framework tailored to each nation's specific and diverse needs (International Institute for Sustainable Development, January 2024). Additionally, we must prioritize community-driven, gender-sensitive and sustainable adaptation approaches. The success of adaptation efforts hinges on empowering local communities to utilize their unique knowledge in designing and implementing solutions.

Furthermore, closing the adaptation finance, currently estimated at US$194-366 billion annually gap is crucial (UNEP, 2023). This requires a significant increase in funding and a shift towards adaptation in resource allocation. A flexible mix of grants, concessional debt, guarantees, or equity instruments to attract blended financing and encourage private investment in developing countries and climate vulnerable countries is needed.

Countries like Bangladesh suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change despite contributing minimally to global emissions. In 2020, the top seven emitters, alongside international transport, accounted for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with G20 members representing 75% (UNEP ,2022). To address this disparity, a shift in climate finance allocation is crucial, with a proposed reallocation from the current 60% focus on mitigation to adaptation (OECD, 2023). This rebalancing requires developed countries to enhance financial and technological support, ensuring a "just transition." Clear commitments are needed to meet the $100 billion goal outlined in the Cancun and Paris Agreements, with detailed delivery plans for financing sources and allocation modes. Furthermore, decisions on post-2025 finance must be made to sustain progress in addressing climate change effectively.

 Lastly, facilitating swift access to the Loss and Damage Fund, established at COP 28, is essential for supporting those most impacted by climate change. This collective effort, coupled with continued innovation, is key to building a resilient future for all.

Rubaiyet Binte Nazmul is a career diplomat from Bangladesh. Since joining the Bangladesh Foreign Office in April 2019, she worked in the consular, administration, International Trade, Investment & Technology, North America wing and South America wings of the Ministry. She is now pursuing a Master of Global Affairs (MGA 1) at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She was awarded the prestigious Prime Minister’s Fellowship by the Government of Bangladesh in 2023. She completed her MSc in Renewable Energy Technology from University of Dhaka in 2019 and  BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology.

 

Bibliography:

Bangladeshi Prime Minister wins UN environment prize for leadership on climate change. (2015, September 14). UN News Global Perspective Human Stories. https://news.un.org/en/story/2015/09/508702

Climate Change Initiatives of Bangladesh:  Achieving Climate Resilience. (n.d.). [Brochure]. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,  Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Eckstein, D., Künzel, V., & Laura, S. (2021). GLOBAL CLIMATE RISK INDEX 2021. Germanwatch e.V. https://www.germanwatch.org/en/19777

HE SHEIKH HASINA - POLICY LEADERSHIP. (n.d.). UNEP. https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2015/he-sheikh-hasina

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International Institute For Sustainable Development. (2024, January 25). After COP 28: What’s next for adaptation? IISD. https://www.iisd.org/articles/explainer/after-cop-28-what-is-next-for-adaptation

Kelman, I., & Bayes, A. (2020). Bangladesh has saved thousands of lives from a devastating cyclone – here’s how. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/bangladesh-has-saved-thousands-of-lives-from-a-devastating-cyclone-heres-how-139903

Long Term Monitoring, Research and Analysis of Bangladesh Coastal Zone (Sustainable Polders Adapted to Coastal Dynamics). (2022). [FINAL SUBSIDENCE REPORT]. Ministry of Water Resources, Bangladesh Water Development Board , Coastal Embankment Improvement Project, Phase-I (CEIP-I). http://ceip-bwdb.gov.bd/Tech_Report/LTM/June22(5).pdf

Mottaleb, K. A., Krupnik, T. J., Keil, A., & Erenstein, O. (2019). Understanding clients, providers and the institutional dimensions of irrigation services in developing countries: A study of water markets in Bangladesh. Agricultural Water Management, 222(August 2019), 242–253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2019.05.038

OECD. (2023). Climate Finance Provided and Mobilised by Developed Countries in 2013-2021:?: Aggregate Trends and Opportunities for Scaling Up Adaptation and Mobilised Private Finance (Climate Finance and the USD 100 Billion Goal). OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/e20d2bc7-en

Perveen, M. F., Nahar, N., Chowdhury, F. J., & Osti, R. P. (n.d.). Addressing Climate Risks: Mainstreaming Climate Change in Development Project Planning and Budgeting in Bangladesh (Briefs 259; ADB Briefs, p. September 2023).

PRIMA, N. A. (2021, August 14). Backward Irrigation Practices Costing Bangladesh. Centre for Governance Studies. https://cgs-bd.com/article/3643/Backward-Irrigation-Practices-Costing-Bangladesh

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?????????? ????????? ?????? ????? ????????: ???? ??? ??????? ?????? ( Use of vetiver in slope protection: A bioengineering solution). (2021). Local Government Engineering Department of Bangladesh. https://lged.portal.gov.bd/sites/default/files/files/lged.portal.gov.bd/lged_publications/967bacfa_e1a5_4552_a6ae_01710a1c9079/2021-11-10-04-52-e5ea04f1dc3dc55b20529542853f9d9c.pdf

 

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