Are communities most vulnerable to climate change receiving support they need?

A pilot project by SAJIDA Foundation now seeks to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable communities by aligning mental health and livelihoods with community-based and nature-based solutions

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The people of Bangladesh, especially those living in coastal regions, are continuously fighting against the adverse impacts of cyclones, floods, salinity intrusion and other disasters. However, in recent times, as the magnitude and frequency of disasters have been increasing, communities are becoming more vulnerable, and as a result less able to combat these adversities. 

One of the most severe aftermaths of disasters was experienced when cyclone Aila hit the coasts of Bangladesh. Lives and livelihoods were devastated, and many traditional practices were destroyed.

Since then, many NGOs and development entities have launched a number of programs to enhance human capacity in these areas, for tackling disasters and the impacts of climate change. These programs have definitely made positive changes in these communities; through trainings and support the local people are now becoming more resilient to various climatic events. 

But these questions still remain; Who are more resilient? Are the neediest and most marginal people receiving support? If not, who among the helpless are not getting support and what is the main reason behind it?

To find answers to these questions and to help the most marginalized communities among the vulnerable groups, SAJIDA Foundation, an NGO of Bangladesh has started working on a pilot project under their Climate Change and Disaster Management Unit. 

The project is being implemented in Gabura, one of the most climate-vulnerable Unions of Bangladesh. Gabura faces cyclones, heavy rainfall, and tidal waves almost every year, affecting the people and damaging their houses and crops. As the suffering continues to grow, these people are becoming more and more poor, resulting in a high number of ultra-poor in these communities.  

The impacts of cyclones Sidr in 2007, Aila in 2009, and Amphan in 2020 affected the whole of the Gabura population.  In addition to these disasters, in the rainy season paddy, vegetables and other crops are usually damaged by waterlogging, and fish farmers lose their fishes due to overflow of water.

After facing the impact of these natural disasters, nowadays people in this area are trying to adapt to climate change. Keeping that in mind, a few research institutes and development entities have started working here to build the adaptive capacity of the locals by providing them with training and other support. However, working in Gabura is not so easy for outsiders. To get here, one has to cross the Kholpetua river first. After this, one has to walk along the narrow roads by the river that become muddy following the slightest of rain. Once in the area, travelling within different segments is still a challenge; it is almost impossible to get from one village to another without a motorbike. 

After a storm, the road taken by the bike is submerged for many days, leaving no choice but to walk. Due to the dilapidated condition of the road, most of the organizations cannot work in this area even if they want to. Those living near the banks of the river can only access get relief as it is very difficult to go to the villages that are located deeper into the Union. In fact, the villages located in the middle of the Union, which are most at risk for waterlogging do not receive any reliefs or grants. Moreover, although some organizations have been working in this Union for the past 7 to 8 years, almost all of them are working in the villages along the river.

However, there are some organisations that are trying to reach out to the remotest areas. For example, Gonomukhi Foundation is successfully carrying out its micro-credit work in almost every village of this Union. They have two local level offices in two villages of this Union. Ledars is another organization that has two local level offices in this Union. However, since it is not possible for just one or two organizations to support the entire village, more organizations need to start working in this area. 

In light of this above situation, the CCDM Unit of Sajida Foundation has decided to start working on a pilot project in this area. The goal is to give the people of this area better livelihood opportunities along with interventions to address their overall well-being, in particular their mental health. The project will focus on areas that have not been previously studied in detail, and that too on the most marginalized communities. Like Gabura, most of the climate-vulnerable areas of the coastal region have high frequencies of floods and cyclones, so the socio-economic condition of the locals in these areas are deteriorating day by day, and many are experiencing both mental and physical stress due to all of these events.

Keeping this in mind, the pilot project seeks to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable communities by aligning mental health and livelihoods with community-based and nature-based solutions. Sajida Foundation aims to not only help needy people with grants but to also scale up what they already have, including skills so that they do not have to depend on anyone else in the future. Since SAJIDA had been approved for the first Green Bond in Bangladesh, the funds will be used to address environmental and climate-related issues. Besides, lessons learned from this pilot project could inform the development of climate-resilient ecosystem-based adaptation initiatives in other projects of the CCDM Unit. 

There are many coastal regions like Gabura which are considered to be the most climate and disaster vulnerable regions for living in Bangladesh due to their unfavourable locations. Due to its proximity to the Sundarbans and being a Union surrounded by rivers, the availability of natural resources is enormous. If the people of this area can be capacitated about the proper use of these resources by increasing their knowledge, then there will be no more livelihood related suffering in this area. However, it would be more beneficial for the locals to take the initiative to scale up their traditional knowledge than to introduce new technology. In this regard, both NGO and development entities need to work together to find the pathways and solutions of climate risk by considering the importance of ecosystem-based and nature-based approaches.

Mahmuda Akter is working as Senior Research Officer, Climate Change and Disaster Management Unit, SAJIDA Foundation. Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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