Multiple working options for vulnerable communities can be a window of success
Bangladesh is frequently cited as one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world due to its geographical location (Ayers 2009). Moreover, the country is highly disaster-prone with frequent incidences of cyclones, tidal surges, floods, riverbank and soil erosions, salinity intrusions and others because of its very flat topography and low land above sea level (Akter 2009). People have learned to adapt to risks over time as disasters have been a regular phenomenon for Bangladesh for a long time. However, the poor with limited capacity to cope with the changing environment suffer most due to frequent exposure to these disasters. In addition to the disaster-prone regions, the community who depends on natural resources are more vulnerable than others. For example, increasing salinity or long-lasting water logging destroys crops and soil fertility causes threat to livelihood and biodiversity.
In the coastal areas of southern Bangladesh, salinity has increased from the last few years and has made the area difficult to grow crops historically irrigated by fresh water. Especially after cyclone Aila, most of the coastal areas were inundated by saline water and local people faced huge losses of their livestock and assets. Like other vulnerable people, Jhorna’s family became helpless after losing all their crops and fishes.
Jhorna is a woman who lives in Shyamnagar Upazila, under the district of Satkhira of Khulna Division. She is an example of a successful woman who saved her family from the financial crisis by doing multiple works. Though her family’s main occupation was crop farming, she is now raising hens, ducks, goats, and cows in her house. Moreover, she is farming freshwater fish in her pond which was unusable after cyclone Aila. She is also involved with soft crab farming which contributes to a big portion of her family's income. She is also involved with selling seasonal fruits as an additional income source.
According to her (back in Sep 2019), ‘Involving with only one income generation activity can make people more vulnerable than others who are involved with multiple works. If one activity becomes hampered during disaster then the rest of the activities can be useful to survive well.’
When Jhorna first got married, she was dependent on her husband. She was not allowed to go anywhere without being accompanied by a family member. However, back in 2007, just after cyclone Sidr, she was trained by Practical Action on agriculture cultivation and started growing vegetables in her house. During cyclone Aila, all of Jhorna’s families and her neighbour's crops and vegetables died due to excessive saline water. That time Jhorna had to go outside to collect water and relief. Jhorna’s family had suffered for over a year since the cyclone Aila had hit, but its aftermath helped her to become an independent woman. As her family couldn't continue the agricultural work due to excessive salinity, her husband had started to work as day labour and she started to attend several training sessions on alternative livelihood practice offered by different NGOs namely Shushilon, Practical Action, Oxfam, Gono Mukhi and others. Because she realized the importance of training sessions from her previous training experience which she gained from Practical Action. Through these training sessions, she learned how to grow rice; fish and vegetables in saline areas; which kinds of beds would be good to; use for planting vegetable; how to plant seeds in beds and sacks; how to make organic fertilizer and pesticide; which fertilizers to use in each season; which crops to harvest; which repellent to use for insects; and how to increase the crop production. She also learned how to keep her poultry healthy by using more nutritious food rather than medicine. Then she started getting involved with multiple income-generating activities by staying at home. Her knowledge acquired from various training had helped her to become capable of successfully growing vegetables and other plants in saline soil. Now her family is also adopting these techniques to produce saline tolerant rice seeds.
Now Jhorna has started to earn more than her husband and has gained decision making power in her household through her economic empowerment. Her husband respects her advice and opinions, he looks up to her and consults with her. Now no one stops her to go anywhere or to do anything. Day by day, her confidence has increased now she not only raises livestock and poultry but for the last one year she has started raising pigeons.
She is a member of the managing committee of a primary school. She learned a lot at different meetings and that is how she increased her self-confidence. Now she can raise her voice without any fear. Everybody listens to her, including government members. That’s why she’s become more interested in working with the local government. She goes to a monthly meeting at the Village Development Committee where they discuss all the problems of the village, write them down, and hand them over to the chairman or members of the local government.
Her father-in-law is now her biggest support. When she has to attend a meeting, her father-in-law helps out with housework. According to her father-in-law, ‘My daughter-in-law has gone to work for the good of my family, and if I do not support her a little, she will not be able to improve her life. Although I used to be very angry with her going outside at the beginning, I now understand that she learns a lot from these meetings, that are helping to solve our financial problems’.
In the future, she dreams that her three daughters will be highly educated. She believes that none can develop their life without education. She also wants to train her neighbours and wants to start a large poultry farm with hens, ducks and pigeons. Besides, she has a plan to increase her soft crab farming work.
Jhorna’s Story reiterates the never-ending perseverance and aspirations of our rural women who have used their knowledge gained to become empowered. These independent individuals are contributing to helping their families and communities break free of their vulnerabilities to climate change. However, more training with future adaptation plans can be useful to minimize the vulnerability to both disaster and climate change.
Mahmuda Mity is working as a research officer at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Her research interest lies in climate change and adaptation, capacity building, migration and urbanization.