Covid crisis echoes the need for improved access, mobilization and utilization of financial resources to tackle climate crisis and biodiversity loss
Nature is sending us a message with the ongoing pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis”, a well-known statement by Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme. Leading scientists pointed out that Covid-19 outbreak has been a “clear warning”, that far more deadly diseases exist in wildlife, and that today’s civilization has been “playing with fire”. They also highlighted that it was almost always human behaviour that has caused diseases to spill over to humans.
Even during this unprecedented time of the pandemic, climate shocks, biodiversity loss and extreme weather events have not been halted. All countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable ones, are now facing the compound impacts of climate change and Covid-19. For instance, during Cyclone Amphan, it was highly challenging for the relevant authorities in Bangladesh to balance the competing goals of evacuating to cyclone shelters while maintaining social distance to keep communities safe. As countries begin the process of recovering from the pandemic, it is crucial to focus on building climate resilience and protecting biodiversity by anticipating future risks. This calls for particular attention to reducing vulnerability and boosting shared prosperity through “No-regrets” investments – particularly for the local communities who live close to nature and are the first ones to take the hit from any disaster.
Taking a closer look at the local level, the status of the healthcare system in Bangladesh has already been brought to our attention during this pandemic. In spite of the initial lag in taking action to control the spread of coronavirus, the national healthcare facilities are eventually picking up momentum. However, these efforts towards enabling the local institutions and workforce need to be continued in order for us to be able to tackle the upcoming climate crisis and threats posed by biodiversity loss on the ground.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2020), there are an estimated 3.05 physicians and 1.07 nurses per 10,000 population in Bangladesh. This shortage in healthcare providers is further emphasized by their concentration in urban areas, despite the fact that 70% of the population of the country live in rural areas. Besides having an overly-centralized healthcare system, WHO identified some other challenges for healthcare in Bangladesh including weak governance structure, lack of institutional capacity, inefficient allocation of public resources and poor maintenance of healthcare facilities. These are alarming tissues owing to the evident impacts of climate change on health and can only be estimated to rise over time coupled with the dwindling biodiversity and deteriorating conditions of our natural resources.
Thus, Bangladesh needs to enhance its readiness to combat the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss on the lives and livelihoods of its people. Even though the country remains a leading example for its efforts towards adapting to climate change, it is still inadequate to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized population. Bangladesh has pioneered in administering two national climate funds – Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) and Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) – while owning an eloquent array of policies, plans and strategies in addition to playing a significant role at the global climate negotiations. Nonetheless, not much of these are exercised at the grassroots. We can now hope that the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) that is underway will stand out from all existing national documents and act as a road map to achieving the climate goals and targets of the nation. The NAP is expected to mainstream climate change adaptation into the country’s planning process, institutional arrangements, capacity building activities, and financial mechanism.
Regardless of the number of initiatives that are being taken by the government, concerted effort from the non-governmental and private sector is required for Bangladesh to be able to protect and restore its natural resources and become climate resilient. Many donor partners are already supporting this process by funding projects that are contributing to these issues in close collaboration with the government and the local communities. With an increasing trend in global funds for adaptation to climate change, there is prospect for climate vulnerable countries like Bangladesh to cope with the additional stress and challenges posed by climate change in face of this pandemic.
However, availability of these funds do not ensure local level action in countries such as Bangladesh due lack of capacity to access these resources. The fund allocation process is usually rigorous and competitive while the proponent needs to comply with the fiduciary standards of the fund authority. Even after accessing funds at the national level, adaptation money often fails to reach the local communities due to lack of institutions, inadequate capacity of local government agencies, absence of relevant experts and other factors. Irrespective of the fund flow, there are still gaps in utilizing climate finance to support local level adaptation action. Strengthening local governments can contribute to infrastructure building and service delivery, drawing from local knowledge to guide adaptation efforts, and help coordinate across various sectors and levels.
Resource allocation and mobilization have been the primary challenges in Covid response. Reflecting on our experiences in emergency response to the pandemic, it is safe to deduce that the existing institutional architecture is not sufficient to overcome the projected climate crisis and loss in biodiversity. Therefore, in order to enable communities to safeguard biodiversity and become climate resilient, a substantial proportion of funds must be channeled to the local government institutions for strengthening their capacity in supporting grassroots adaptation efforts. In this way, local government institutions could serve as key actors in bottom-up interventions and as gateways in ensuring access and utilization of financial and natural resources within communities in a sustainable manner.
Soburun Nessa Chowdhury (Priya) is working at Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) as a Senior Research Officer. Her career interest lies in enabling communities to thrive without disrupting natural processes through ensuring equity of natural resources across communities and generations. She can be reached at [email protected]
Farah Anzum is working as a Programme Assistant at IUCN Bangladesh. She has professional experience in the field of research and policy advocacy on climate finance, ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. For any kind of query, please email her at [email protected]