Unpacking local knowledge for solutions
As per Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) progress report 2020, the level and progress for Climate Action in Bangladesh compared to other South Asian countries is quite good. Bangladesh has a substantial amount of important policies and plans that support Climate Change adaptation, this includes the Perspective plan 2021-2041- which takes building Bangladesh resilient to climate change and other environmental challenges as one of the strategic goals to make the vision 2041 a reality. Furthermore, the National Plan for Disaster Management, Standing Order on Disaster, Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan(BCCSAP), Disaster Management Act, which reflect on Community Engagement in planning, implementation, and monitoring are all comprehensive strategy adopted to manage the risk and challenges faced by the country due to climate change. Most programs by government and non-government agencies highlight Locally Led Adaptation (LLA) though in practice, much still needs to be improved.
There is no debate about the importance of community engagement. No doubt, the people suffering with the problem of climate change impact can bring the best solution, as they are already coping with the changed context and adapting to the impact it has on their lives. Local communities also feel they should be heard, their practices must be better respected and the needs and demands at the local level should be better addressed. This is true that the answers are there on the ground. If we look at the LLA practices at disaster-prone coastal areas like Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat, we find several encouraging practices adopted by the vulnerable community. But the question is how to capitalize on these good practices and integrate them into development plans and wider outreach?
As far as climate change is concerned, there is a mindset that science and technologies will produce a solution that relates to climate change mitigation. What about climate change adaptation then? The climate-vulnerable communities are already adapting to the changes, for example in water supplies, food security and livelihoods in diverse ways. Therefore in the individual and local context, they are the best decision-makers for climate adaptation planning and financing.
The efforts of community practice were highlighted at the Climate Adaptation Summit’s Locally Led Adaptation Anchor event hosted by Sheikh Hasina, the honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The event was watched live by over 4,000 people. Around 40 organizations from different corners of the globe already endorsed the Principles for LLA. The 8 principles of LLA are; 1) Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level, 2) Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, disabled, and excluded ethnic groups, 3) Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily, 4) Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy, 5) Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty, 6) Flexible programming and learning, 7) Ensuring transparency and accountability, and 8) Collaborative action and investment.
The principles have been well-articulated by the facilitating actors and the endorsing organizations have developed actions and indicators accordingly. However, the potential challenges are how the principles will be translated on the ground and what it means to the local people of the community. The solution is not only to develop the actions but also to apply them at the local level and most importantly the way the local people think, suggest, and decide.
This is a challenging approach and strategy of both the government and non-government actors. Community engagement, participation and local leadership are terms sometimes overused, although several good practices and evidence exist on the ground. This is the right time to challenge ourselves, to reflect on our existing practices, step back if necessary and redesign our activities as needed to address the climate change on the ground.
For example, let us take the first principle of LLA ‘Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level.’ How do we apply it? The local people are usually consulted, the process of decision making is facilitated. To reach the lowest appropriate level we refer to inclusive approaches. But, if we ask ourselves how many cases are there; that the local people really decided for themselves; if the excluded people were part of the initiative; the rate is low. Still, there is the practice of tokenism. What do we need to do then?
First, we need to investigate the existing practices. One of the potential approaches is ‘Most affected, Most participated.’ Each decision and action taken has consequences and they affect each individual be it men women, rich or poor, children or elders differently. . We must analyse how the decision and action might affect people and how the individual might deal with the consequences. We need to ensure that the ‘most affected’ people are taking the ‘most space’ in the decision-making process. We must promote a structure where one person is not given more power than another and the affected people can participate equally for their final say about a decision. What is true participation then? We need to flip our lens in this case. It is quite simple but a tough process, ‘No decision making means No participation’. When we talk about LLA, we have to make sure that the local people are making the decisions themselves rather than nodding along with the decisions made or facilitated by others. The key is that the affected people are mostly taking decisions for climate change adaptation at the local level.
Next, let us reflect on the other side of the box. Why has participation not been in decent shape to date? Why has it been talked about for long, but still there is a gap? Both public and private stakeholders commit, lay out a number of principles and approaches to address it but are they held accountable for their actions? Are we holding ourselves accountable? Do we account ourselves for what we are committed to? Though upward accountability to donors and government exists, downward accountability is missing in most cases.
As per principle, the actors are accountable to the local people for their actions. ‘Brave Accountability’ is very much needed to challenge unjust accountability in practice. We must be accountable for all our actions as well as holding others to account for injustice. We must promote a sense of responsibility - being accountable to ourselves and to the local people equally. It means we should look for solutions and ways through getting to the centre of the issues and addressing the needs of both impacted and responsible people. It must embed the ‘do no harm’ so that the decisions taken are relevant and avoid unintended negative consequences. It can be done through diverse ways, for example, establishing a mechanism for reporting back to the community we work with, enabling the making petitions to the responsible authorities by the local community people, and making data and information available wherever possible.
To carry out the task correctly we must challenge ourselves to evolve our mindset. The principles of LLA start with the belief that the local people have the capacity and strength to lead the decision-making process. The actors must go with a mindset of ‘empowerment,’ meaning that everyone has the power to bring a change to the world. Every person deserves to use the power from within and most importantly use the knowledge and practices rooted in the culture. The local people can contribute their knowledge towards science and technology rather than digesting imported knowledge only. And especially as we talk about climate change, the climate-vulnerable people themselves are the pioneers in adapting at their best through their daily life actions and reactions.
Similarly, we need to unpack all the principles of LLA and translate them into the local level; and only then will we be able to build a Bangladesh resilient to climate change and other environmental challenges as Vision 2041 depicts.
Ashish Barua is working with Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as Programme Manager, Climate Change and DRR, his research interest lies in Empowerment, Justice and Social Equities. Can be reached at [email protected]