Understanding Climate Change Vulnerability in Two Coastal Villages in Bangladesh and Exploring Options for Resilience

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Bangladesh, due to its geographic location, is highly exposed to different climatic hazards and natural disasters. Environmental vulnerability coupled with poor infrastructural and socio-economic factors in the coastal belt of the country, further reduces the capacity of local communities to tackle the impacts of climatic shocks and stresses. The south-west coastal region has already been diagnosed with increasing effects of different slow onset stressors such as rising temperatures, salinity intrusion and sudden climatic shocks such as cyclones, floods, storm surge etc. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5o C predicts that, increase in heavy precipitation in coastal regions across the global along with tropical cyclones and increased sea levels may lead to increased flooding. Incidence of tropical cyclones, heavy precipitation, and degree of salinity in Bangladesh have been observed to have increased exponentially in the previous decades. These are expected to worsen as the effects of climate change become more and more prominent. The south-west coastal regions in Bangladesh tend to be the worst sufferer of these climate change induced changes, bearing adverse effects in their agricultural sector, water security, livelihood security, health status and overall wellbeing.
This action research has been conducted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) under the HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation led ‘Panii Jibon’ project, to better understand the agro-ecological, socioeconomic and political context of climate change in a coastal district in Bangladesh and the challenges associated with them. The study sites selected were two villages, namely Garuikhali and Kumkhali of Paikgacha upazila in Khulna district. Rapid vulnerability assessment of climate change has been undertaken particularly on livelihood and water security as well as on overall well-being of communities in the area. A set of participatory tools have been applied to derive local perception on different vulnerabilities, existing coping strategies and possible ways forward to address these vulnerabilities. Based on which, evidence-based solutions have been recommended to enhance the adaptive capacity and resilience of vulnerable communities to the impacts of climate change and also to improve their well-being
Both villages selected for the study demonstrate similar demographic and socio-economic conditions and were found to be subject to the climatic shocks and stresses at different extents. Cyclone/storm surge has been identified as one of the most frequent, severe and of high magnitude sudden climatic event affecting the area, attributing to the proximity of these villages to major rivers nearby. Cyclone Aila in 2009, was reported as the most devastating natural disaster to have occurred in recent history which not only caused serious damage to life and property but also led to significant intrusion of saline content both in water and soil. Even though some degree of salinity has always been present due to geographical location of the study sites, frequent occurrence of cyclones over the last 30-40 years has been cited as a key driving factor for the gradual increase in the levels of salinity experienced in the villages. Levels of salinity, both in water and soil, tend to rise during dry and summer months and gradually decrease at the advent of rainy season. High intensity short term rainfall has also been reported as another major climatic event by local communities in both the villages. Such irregular rainfall results in inundation and waterlogging, affecting nearly everyone. Excessive heat and changes in traditional seasonal patterns have also been observed by the communities. The traditional six-season climate pattern in Bangladesh has altered over the past decade or so and now warm and cool seasons are now prominent.
A culmination of all these recent changes in climatic events and patterns have severely impacted the livelihood security of the communities. Historically, livelihoods of both the communities were mostly dependent on natural resources and majority of local people practiced arable and pastoral farming, and
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fishing. But over the years, the share of people engaged in agriculture has reduced due to salinity intrusion, irregular rainfall patterns, and excessive heat. One key difference noted between the two villages was the growing proliferation of shrimp farming in Garuikhali whereas nearly no one in Kumkhali was found to be engaged in the profession. As a result, Garuikhali has experienced a substantial deterioration of saline conditions, a situation further exacerbated by poor management of sluice gates in the village. Only 6% of the respondents in Garuikhali were found to be practicing agriculture in the form of vegetable production on elevated lands. In Kumkhali, on the other hand, people have restrained themselves from engaging in shrimp farming and as a result 66.0% respondents can still practice agriculture. However, crop yields in Kumkhali have also significantly reduced over the years due to different climatic changes which led 34% of the respondents to shift to non-farm activities.
Water security has also been impacted by different climatic events. Salinity intrusion in village ponds has largely affected the access to fresh drinking water in both the villages leaving only 5% of the respondents in Garuikhali with access to fresh drinking water. Mobility in accessing fresh drinking water is further restricted as a result of inundation due to high intensity short term rainfall. Consumption and household usage of saline and contaminated water give rise to water borne diseases like diarrhea, cholera, stomach bugs, and skin diseases. In both the villages, women and children have been found to be most afflicted by these diseases. Research has shown that saline water consumption in dry season contributes to hypertension during pregnancy which has several possible consequences including impaired liver function, low platelet count, intrauterine growth retardation, preterm birth and maternal and prenatal death.
Migration dynamics in the study areas have also shifted in the context of climate change. For about 53.5% surveyed households in Garuikhali and 21.4% households in Kumkhali, at least one family member or relative has migrated in the last 20-30 years to seek alternative income generating opportunities. Loss of income and livelihood opportunities have been found to be the most triggering factors of migration to nearby cities. In both the villages, mostly the male primary earning member were found to engage in migration, leaving their female counterpart alone to deal with other aspects of household life. All these impacts of climatic events on livelihood security, water security and health status affect the overall wellbeing of the community.
While the communities have adopted a myriad of coping strategies, some driven by traditional knowledge while others with support from both the Government as well as non-government agencies, these strategies can be deemed as largely unsustainable in the face of exacerbating climatic change impacts. To reduce the wellbeing loss and enhance livelihood security, equitable distribution of agriculture and shrimp farming, supply of saline tolerant rice seeds, better access to market and alternative livelihood training have been proposed by the study. Besides, rain water harvesting, desalination plant at community level, proper management of sluice gates were identified by local communities for ensuring their water security. Planned resettlement and migration of affected people have also been recognized as a means of enhancing their adaptive capacity. Furthermore, the study proposes setting up a financial mechanism for effective channeling of climate funds to the local level in order to support these practices and strategies, thereby promoting resilience of vulnerable communities in these two coastal villages.

  • Publisher: International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)
  • Website: http://www.icccad.net
  • Author(s): Istiakh Ahmed, Riadadh Hossain, Tasfia Tasnim, Shahrin Mannan, Dr. Saleemul Huq
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