Social security and protection are much needed tools to tackle climate change
With the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, low-lying coastlines such as Bangladesh are prone to inundation.
Climate change exacerbates impacts from weather and climate extremes to which Bangladesh is already susceptible.
Flooding, droughts and cyclones occur regularly in Bangladesh.
Poor people residing in vulnerable areas attempt to mitigate and adapt to these weather-related events but have very little resources at their disposal.
For example, residents in flood-prone zones have raised their homes on to plinths to be protected against flooding. But widespread, well-planned, market-integrated climate adaptation has not taken place.
Not enough studies have explored the short-term impacts of disasters and even fewer have examined the medium and long-term impacts of floods, cyclones, and other sudden disasters.
Social security is key
Social security programs have an important role to play in reducing negative impacts of natural (and man-made) disasters.
To reduce the risks of climate change on vulnerable populations, social security systems need to be strengthened.
Households with less income and less access to productive assets face higher exposure to flooding and have less capacity to recover after a flood.
The seasonal nature of disasters in Bangladesh means that vulnerability levels among poor populations shift throughout the year and have different effects on rural and urban areas. Households facing the greatest risk of flooding were the least able to cope, both in terms of household-level preparedness and community-level flood relief.
As a response to natural disasters, more and more Bangladeshis move from self-employment to day-to-day labour
Another element of vulnerability in Bangladesh involves the relationship between the cycle of agricultural livelihoods and disasters.
The seasonality of flooding and cyclones means that households are more vulnerable at certain times of the year. Coping with seasonality requires an understanding of the relationships between agricultural cycles, labour demands of men, women and children, and the impacts of disasters on livelihoods and well-being. Thus, the nature of vulnerability in rural areas varies depending on specific economic, ecological, and disaster-risk factors.
Because of accelerated rates of economic growth, Bangladesh was able to reduce poverty at a faster rate in the past decade than previously.
Nevertheless, conditions for communities living in geographically vulnerable areas have deteriorated due to hazards related to climate change.
The poor suffer the most
Increasingly frequent disasters in these regions mean that the communities living there are chronically poor.
Even if poverty rates improve, more frequent disasters pose a great threat to the livelihoods of millions of people living in vulnerable regions.
If Bangladesh fails to successfully address vulnerability to impacts from the present climate-related disasters, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to protect its citizens from the impacts of projected future climate change.
One imperative is to improve the existing social-protection framework and design new programs to cope with expected vulnerability to climate change. Current social security programs fall short of demand and its coverage is not adequate.
Communities prefer to receive cash transfers not food aid because this gives them more flexibility in spending. Delivery of transfers is weak due to leakages and lack of adherence with program guidelines.
Cash transfer programs require stronger digital technologies to ensure effective delivery at scale. Last-mile delivery needs to be quick, local, and responsive.
Capacity building and training is needed to improve the government’s institutional capacity to manage, target, monitor, and evaluate safety-net programs in relation to disasters.
When households are displaced, gender inequalities that exist prior to a disaster can manifest themselves in many forms — not only in differential impacts but also in the resources and services available to support recovery and reconstruction.
The needs and priorities of women, the elderly, and disabled are rarely addressed in resettlement accommodation, with particular problems faced by female-headed households and widows including issues such as privacy for bathing and latrines.
Special consideration should be given to the new vulnerabilities created by climate change.
As a response to natural disasters, more and more Bangladeshis move from self-employment to day-to-day labour. This negative coping mechanism is a reaction to disasters that, in turn, exacerbates vulnerabilities.
Accordingly, safety-net programs must be co-ordinated not only with DRR, but also with skills training programs that promote employment in disaster-resistant industries.
A social protection approach to climate-change adaptation can provide a framework for poverty and vulnerability that emphasises both equity issues and the growing connections between poor people and the ecosystems that frame and shape their lives and livelihoods.
Because the impacts of climate change are and will be significant, although their timing and nature at the local level remain uncertain, social security instruments should be adapted, with a good development approach for both rural and urban settings.
The Ministry of Food and Disaster Management should maintain a database of the vulnerable.
The government should prepare a database cataloguing the socio-economic status of households, the nature of their vulnerability, the type of benefits they receive, and the organisation from which they originally received these benefits.
Authorities should properly track beneficiaries. Regular updates will remove households that are financially solvent, and will also prevent the overlapping of benefits and erroneous exclusions.
This article is a summary of the policy review written in the same title by Cristina Coirolo, Stephen Commins, Iftekharul Haque, and Gregory Pierce for the Overseas Development Institute, Development Policy Review 31 (S2).
Shazia Omar is a poverty activist and a writer, currently working as a consultant at the Social Security Policy Support Project.