Rising above adversity: Community-led climate adaptation along Bangladesh's coastal belt
Jannatul Ferdous from Hatiya is happy that the ICBA-AR project has raised and repaired the tube well near their home, helping prevent saltwater intrusion during cyclones and floods and protecting their source of drinking water. Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh
This story first appeared as a photo essay on UNDP-Climate Exposure here.
Rangu Debi, 70, lives on Monpura, an isolated island of Bhola district in Bangladesh, surrounded by Meghna River. A widow with six children, she has seen many cyclones and floods in her lifetime, some of them catastrophic. Fifty years ago, Cyclone Bhola’s flood waters took everything from her, including one of her daughters. Since then she has been living in a government shelter.
Her story is not uncommon.
Millions of lives in the balance
A densely populated low-lying country dominated by deltaic floodplains, Bangladesh is exceptionally vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Long subject to frequent cyclones, extreme weather events and storm surges, climate change is now supercharging those events.
Each year increasingly powerful storms fueled by warmer waters in the Bay of Bengal batter the coast, inundating farmland, damaging houses and sweeping away lives and livelihoods.
Meanwhile, rising sea levels are driving a slow onset disaster in salinisation. More frequent floods and droughts are on the horizon.
Those able to migrate away from hazard-prone areas have done so, while the poorest have been left behind. With precarious housing, tenuous livelihoods and nowhere to go when disaster strikes, they are left highly vulnerable.
Hundreds of millions of lives hang in the balance.
Taking a grassroots approach, the ICBA-AR Project has focused on offering people climate-resilient livelihoods, restoring greenbelts, and strengthening early warning and preparedness for disasters.
Promoting resilient and innovative livelihoods
By offering families more resilient, sustainable livelihoods, the project is helping families put food on the table and boost their incomes, while also reducing pressure on forests.
Under the project, 2,300 households have received support for adopting more resilient, innovative and nature-based agricultural livelihoods, including the cultivation of saline-tolerant rice, sorjone culture, floating vegetables, mixed fruit orchards and pulses; and fish-rice rotation.
More than 2,500 households have been trained and received support in livestock-rearing – such as raising ducks and using hydroponic fodder – while 2,200 households have received support to establish fisheries, including cage aquaculture and crab fattening.
Living on the isolated island of Char Jahir Uddin in Bhola district, Razia Begum received support in adopting a ‘Forest-Fruit- Fish and Vegetable (3FV)’ model of farming. As a result, she now feeds her family and earns over US$2,000 selling her fruit, vegetables, fish and eggs each month.
The project's '3FV' farming model was featured at the Global Commission on Adaptation in Dhaka in 2019, receiving the interest of former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon; Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina; President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda C Heine; and World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgiev.
While most coastal crops were destroyed by Cyclone Amphan in May 2020, floating gardens planted under the project’s ‘2FVD’ model (Fish, Fruit, Vegetables and Duck Farming) withstood the super storm by rising with the water.
To regulate drainage and protect agricultural fields from saline water intrusion, the project has also been excavating 2.9 kilometres of canals and renovating sluice gates. Around 500,000 households in Bhola have seen improved agricultural production as a result.
150 tube well platforms have been raised above flood level, while 140 new ponds are also helping ensure safe drinking water for communities and reducing women’s time spent collecting water.
The project has constructed six raised earthen platforms ('killa'), with the capacity to shelter approximately 15,000 livestock during disasters.
Protecting communities through stronger greenbelts
Buffering communities from heavy winds and storm surges, mangroves have a key protective function. They are also extremely effective carbon sinks.
Restoring and nurturing mangrove forests – considered a first line of defence against climate disasters – has been at the core of the ICBA-AR project.
Since its inception, more than 572,000 seedlings of 12 climate-resilient species have been raised in its nurseries.
The project has also worked to expand the diversity of species in 650 hectares of previously mono-culture plantations, also developing an assessment plan to determine the effectiveness of diversification.
Co-management committees have been formed in all 8 Upazila under the project, supporting forest protection and resources management, and facilitating dialogue between communities and local government.
Members of the FRPGs act as stewards of the forest, including patrolling with the Forest Department and raising awareness against illegal tree felling.
The ICBA-AR Project has recognised communities not simply as victims of climate change, but as critical partners for finding and sustaining adaptation solutions.
Saving lives through enhanced early warning
Finally, with disasters looming large over communities, the project has also been focused on enhancing local early warning capacity.
In support of the government’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme, the project has distributed microphones, hand sirens, signal flags, jackets and motorcycles to local institutions.
Approximately 6,000 Cyclone Preparedness Programme volunteers have been equipped to disseminate early warning and conduct rescues.
Eight female community watchers have been appointed to work closely with households to empower women and facilitate the adoption of climate-resilient livelihoods.
Cyclone Preparedness Programme volunteers trained under the project played an active role in spreading awareness and helping locals to minimise loss and damage when Cyclones Fani, Bulbul and Amphan hit Bangladesh.
Volunteers and staff are now working to raise awareness among coastal islanders about the prevention of COVID-19.
Leaving no-one behind
The ICBA-AR project is now focused on replicating the Forest-Fruit-Fish-Vegetable (3FV) model at the homestead level; developing an agreement between the Forest Department and Forest Resource Protection Groups for forest conservation; and further construction of ‘killa’ for protecting livestock during cyclones and storm surges. A climate adaptation learning centre is under implementation at local level, to be linked to a forthcoming regional adaptation centre in Dhaka.
As well as continuing to support the uptake of more resilient livelihoods, the project is turning to other adaptation initiatives such as improved cooking stoves, ‘climate-proofed’ tube wells, rainwater harvesting, and solar power in rehabilitated villages for climate refugees.
For its policy initiatives and on-the-ground implementation, Bangladesh has become a role model to other countries for climate action.
Innovative participatory projects such as ICBA-AR are showing how local communities can play a leading role in both adaptation and mitigation.
Work continues. The challenges remain as great as ever.
UNDP remains the largest service provider in the UN system on climate change action and one of the largest brokers of climate change grant support to developing countries. For more information on UNDP-supported adaptation work around the world, please visit www.adaptation-undp.org