Planning Adaptation in Bangladesh

Submitted by Ben Smith | published 23rd Jul 2011 | last updated 17th Mar 2020

Adaptation: Responding to the threat of Climate Change

This work forms part of a Policy Briefing on Climate Change in Bangladesh produced by Practical Action in 2008. Other sections of the report can be seen in the Related Pages section to the right, where the full report can also be downloaded.

Climate change is currently causing increased hardship for rural communities throughout Bangladesh. Moreover, current global levels of greenhouse gas pollution means that the impacts of climate change are now set to worsen over the coming decades regardless of future emissions. However, whilst the most profound impacts of climate change may still be some years away, our understanding of future climate scenarios means that actions to help prepare communities can be taken now. Importantly, strategies that build community's ability to adapt to climate change can and must be undertaken now: it will be too late to act once the last crops have failed or glacial lakes have burst.

Strategies for adaptation need to focus on the needs of the people most affected by climate change impacts and aim to reduce the most significant hazards they face. Identifying communities' own priorities and needs, and valuing their knowledge alongside science-based knowledge is key to development of sound adaptation strategies. Sharing experiences, obstacles and positive initiatives with other communities and development policy-makers must be an integral part of national adaptation strategies. The primary role of governments and international processes is in developing and implementing policy that is enabling for local-level action. However, some important adaptation activities, such as management of increasingly scarce or flood prone water resources, will require coordination at the regional and intergovernmental levels.

Development of adaptation strategies at the national level is underway in some Least Developed Countries, where National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) identify priorities for adaptation projects. To ensure a positive impact on the most vulnerable communities, climate change adaptation should support the development of community based systems of adaptation based on sustainable livelihood options and sound management of ecosystems through strengthening capacities, skills and institutions to react and adapt to climate generated changes. More specifically, climate change adaptation strategies, including the NAPAs, should:

  • Begin with vulnerability assessments based on strong gender analysis to focus on the most vulnerable and their needs within the communities and to identify and reduce the most significant vulnerabilities they face.
  • Value the knowledge and strategies that the poor are already using to cope with climate change and use this as a basis to identify priorities and define action.
  • Empower communities to participate in the development of climate change sensitive interventions and policies, ensuring effective interaction between decision-makers and planners from key climate change affected sectors in both government and donors' structures.
  • Require agriculture, energy, transport and health departments of Government to undertake an analysis of predicted climate change and how it will impact on their sector.
  • Facilitate delivery of resources, support and services to community level, including information, skills, technology, finance and basic services and activities aimed at Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • Ensure that risks related to climate change and community-based responses to adaptation are mainstreamed into the most appropriate planning frameworks and development plans (including PRSPs).

Community based adaptation - reaching Bangladesh's rural poor

Climate change will have a significant impact on Bangladesh's rural poor. The impacts will force profound lifestyle changes and destroy livelihoods if communities are not made aware of climate change and supported in finding ways to adjust. However, through community based adaptation, there is much that can be done:

  • Awareness of climate change is a key pillar of community based adaptation. Active participation in workshops, meetings and events that have been organised within communities can allow them to relate their own experiences to climate change and understand how future weather patterns may differ to those they have known in the past.
  • Action on adaptation can produce benefits now and in the future. Many adaptation activities help to provide communities with diversified livelihoods, alternative sources of income, or better infrastructure. Such 'no regrets' strategies are attractive as they have immediate positive impacts whilst also supporting the ability of communities to adapt to climate changes in the future.
  • Adaptation can be made more effective by focussing on two existing areas of policy: disaster risk reduction and supporting livelihoods. When undertaken through community organisations, these overlapping activities address key climate vulnerabilities and build capacity to deal with future challenges.

Examples of Practical Action's experience with community based adaptation in Bangladesh are provided in the following section, and demonstrate how low cost interventions can make a huge difference to those most affected by climate change. However, whilst local community based interventions are an essential aspect of adaptation, there is also an urgent need for adaptation planning and investment across all sectors of government. Water stress, biodiversity changes, human health, rural-urban migration, and in particular the potentially profound and devastating impacts on agriculture and food security are all examples of anticipated climate change impacts that need planning for now. Government at all levels needs to support both community based adaptation and, together with communities, develop and implement strategies that respond to these wider and larger scale implications of climate change.

Experiences of community based adaptation strategies

Practical Action's experience of community based adaptation demonstrate that support for communities facing climate change can be provided now, and at little cost. For example, Practical Action has worked with communities to establish 'floating gardens' as a mechanism to secure vegetable production in regions that are subjected to repeated flooding. It is anticipated that climate change will increase the likelihood of very high rainfall, meaning that the problems presented by flooding are likely to get worse. Using water hyacinth or other local water plants as the base for the growing media, floating gardens have been successfully employed to allow vegetables to be produced in water logged areas, protecting the poor from malnutrition and providing a source of income during the post monsoon and peak rainy seasons. The approach brings areas of land that cannot be used due to flooding under cultivation, and increases the fertility of the land when the decomposed contents of the garden are deposited. However, communities require support to make the approach successful, as many lack a right of access to an appropriate land or body of water, are unable to access finances and materials to establish floating gardens, or require training on how to create and maintain the gardens or how access markets for their products.

New farming techniques such as floating gardens are low-cost changes that can directly address the threat to the livelihoods of the rural poor. Whilst these strategies provide for improved livelihoods for the communities involved, they are 'win-win' approaches to adaptation as they also target the twin goals of community based adaptation: building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability.

Potential adaptation strategies exist for all sectors and can implemented as community based adaptation projects:

Agriculture Sector:

  • Diversification of crop agriculture is a key approach in addressing climate change, but requires research on appropriate varieties for the new physical, social and climatic conditions. Diversification should be coupled with the revitalization of local varieties that have a greater resilience to extreme climate events.
  • Household and community assets can be reinforced through alternative livelihood options such as homestead gardening, horticulture, floating gardens and handicraft production. Increasing assets and diversifying livelihood options are key components in ensuring that communities are able to adapt to meet the challenges that climate change brings.
  • Information on pest control and methods to protect winter vegetables from extreme cold and fog needs to be disseminated.
  • Seed banks can be established to ensure that varieties remain available following disaster periods.
  •  Awareness raising on strategies for building adaptive capacity and the implications of climate change amongst local level non-government organizations, agricultural extension officers, block supervisor of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), and farmers.

Housing and Settlement:

  • Flood risk can be alleviated through building raised house plinths for the homes of affected people.
  • Homestead plantations can protect settlements from flood and erosion.
  • Raising water pumps so that flood water does not contaminate drinking water.

Rivers:

  • Dredging of river beds combats increased sedimentation, thereby improving navigability.
  • Increasing vegetative coverage along river banks protects against erosion resulting from increased flow and flooding.

Awareness Raising and Capacity Building:

Mass awareness raising on the impacts of climate change and how to cope with the challenges can be carried out through a variety of means, such as the distribution of posters or leaflets, running discussion sessions with different groups such as NGOs, Upazila level officials (agriculture, disaster management unit), or setting up school and college environmental clubs that can arrange discussions on local issues.

Community based adaptation also emphasises the need for communities to understand that climate change means that traditional responses to climate variation may no longer be sufficient when long term shifts in temperature and rainfall are predicted. Women, who frequently manage local natural resources, are central to ensuring that the impacts of climate change are properly understood. By building on their understanding of the climate and their environment, and by sharing their experiences with others, communities are able to develop their own strategies for climate change adaptation. Local and national government policy is therefore needed to support the communities in this process of defining and achieving their own goals.