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Mashrekur Rahman

Climate change is not just a theory nowadays; it is in fact a grim dystopian reality. Forerunning glimpses of its adverse impacts are prevalent all around the world, especially in countries such as Bangladesh. We are already paying the price for unhindered carbon emission. The simultaneous destruction of local ecosystem, as a result of overpopulation, is only aggravating the impacts by multiple folds. The potential long-term impacts of global climate change on Bangladesh are widespread and intricate- land inundation, salinity intrusion, food shortage, freshwater shortage, extreme weather systems such as cyclone, drought, tidal surge etc. The first line of defense of the local population is the rich ecosystem services in this riverine delta.

However, overpopulation, unplanned urbanization and uncontrolled industrialization have greatly affected these services over the last decade. Pollution and consequent environmental degradation has led to a decline of water quality, and it has been exacerbated by poor management, distribution and over-extraction. Parts of north-west Bangladesh suffers from severe water shortage during dry season and huge portion of the south-west is suffering from salinity intrusion from the insurgent salt water of the Bay of Bengal. Plethora of freshwater species has already disappeared from the fragile coastal ecosystem of Bangladesh.

Changes in weather pattern have increased the vulnerability of people from floods, droughts and diseases. If unaltered, the current situation will deteriorate, pushing this densely populated nation into chaos, as millions of climate refugees try to find new home to survive and sustain their livelihoods. Until global carbon emissions decline and the average temperature start returning to natural trend, the only way for Bangladesh’s people to survive is through ‘adaptation’. 

Adaptation to climate change in Bangladesh is a complicated scenario; many past attempts have been made which were not sustainable in the long run. I have used my experience as a researcher in relative field and devised an integrated approach consisting of a set of three innovative solutions which address the issues of climate refugees, food security, fresh water adequacy and accessibility. change adaptation20151108152432.jpg

Salinity levels in coastal regions of Bangladesh have raised drastically in recent years due to rising sea levels; a direct consequence of climate change. As a result, both surface water and ground water sources have unsafe levels of salinity, rendering them useless for drinking purposes. Locals in south west Bangladesh already travel miles to collect fresh water from safer sources. This has lowered the living standards and exacerbated the poverty situation in those regions. Community based solar powered desalination plants may provide a feasible solution for this problem. 

Implementation Strategy: Initially one solar powered desalination plant will be established. A committee, consisting of village elders and leaders, will collect small amount of money, on a monthly basis, from each of its users. Part of this fund will be used for operation and maintenance of the plant and excess money will be amassed in a bank account. This excess money will be invested into building a new solar desalination system and so on. Being a crowd sourced project, its beneficiaries will become its stakeholders, developing a sense of ownership. The committee will hold meetings to resolve problems once every two months.

Potential Challenges: The first and foremost challenge is acquiring initial funds for setting up the first desalination plant. Technical expertise required to engineer and build the plants may pose another challenge. National universities and research institutes can provide this technical assistance and train local people. Another significant problem may arise from politicization and corruption of the management system; certain committee leaders may use their authority to control the accessibility to desalinated water and thus use it for political and personal gains. Pricing of water is expected to be a sensitive issue and experts might be required to set it within feasible range. 

Costs and Identification of Funding: One of the great advantages of a solar powered system is that it requires no fuel cost at all. Local banks may alleviate the problem of initial funding by providing low-interest loans to the committee. Business corporations may also contribute to the cause as a part of their social responsibility. NGOs and local government may also provide this fund as an initial not-for-profit investment and support it until the autonomous committees possess sufficient financial ability and technical expertise to operate and maintain the system efficiently. As beneficiaries of the project start to pay for the freshwater, they will eventually pay off any debt on the desalination plant. Banks may help with the financial transactions to ensure accountability.

Expected Outcome: These desalination plants are absolutely carbon neutral and do not produce chemical or biological pollutants; a stark contrast to conventional water treatment plants which often use fossil fuels and produce harmful pollutants. In terms of social gains, this initiative will reduce water tensions and conflicts within the society, and create some job opportunities. Eventually this will allow vulnerable population to adapt to the salinity impact of climate change, reducing poverty levels and eventually playing a vital role in reducing mass migration. change adaptation0220151108152440.jpg

Involving the national electronic, print and social media to raise awareness among general population for ecosystem protection may be the most efficient and economical way to achieve this goal. Bangladesh has suffered from massive ecosystem degradation in the recent past. This has mainly been due to overpopulation, urbanization, industrialization, reckless pollution, but the most alarming of all is the over-exploitation of ecosystem services. Over-use of soil for agriculture is destroying the fertile soil structure, over-fishing during fish spawning season has eliminated many aquatic species and their numbers are dwindling continuously, relentless abstraction of groundwater has already depleted many aquifers in the country, while surface water is under constant aggression from pollution. Deforestation, deliberate inland saltwater intrusion for shrimp farming, destruction of natural wetlands and use of harmful chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides in agriculture are some of the other grave practices destroying the ecosystem and thus effectively removing the people’s means of adaptation against the impacts of climate change. Food security is directly connected to a future healthy ecosystem.

Awareness among the general population is the only sustainable way of protecting the fragile ecosystem of this naturally rich riverine delta. In recent times many television channels, FM/AM radio stations, online and print newspapers have sprung up in Bangladesh. They are successfully reaching people in the most remote of areas, and have become the tool of choice for conveying social messages.

Implementation Strategy: All television channels, radio stations, newspapers and online portals have to be reminded of their power to reach people at a household level. They must be made aware of their responsibility to use this power for the betterment of people. Climate and environmental activists may visit these media offices often and present to them the current situation of the ecosystem and its predicted future. The television channels and radio stations may be encouraged to emphasize on ecosystem degradation and awareness building in their news bulletins and programs. Newspapers and online portals may be encouraged to publish daily segments dedicated to the environment and ecosystem protection. These programs and segments will contain messages which make general people understand their role in ecosystem protection and how their simplest of steps will accrete to become a major change. Producers and directors of movies, telefilms, popular daily soaps, corporate advertisements etc. may be involved into the process so that parts of their production convey awareness on the importance of ecosystem protection in the adaptation efforts of climate change. Famous actors, actresses and other media personalities may become ambassadors of ecosystem protection drive. Even local religious centers and religious leaders can be involved for the cause.  

Potential Challenges: The major challenge in the implementation of this idea is making the media understand that no revenue will be lost in this endeavor. All the messages about ecosystem protection and climate change adaptation will be integrated into the programs as messages, scenarios, news etc. 

Costs and Identification of Funding: There are virtually no costs involved in the implementation of this idea. However business corporations may sponsor some advertisements or programs which promote the idea of ecosystem sustainability for climate change adaptation and also raise awareness on environmental protection. 

Expected Outcome:  These efforts will eventually improve the quality of services offered by the naturally rich ecosystem in Bangladesh. As food security will be ensured for the future, the mass migration of climate and environmental refugees will be halted to some extent. The repercussions of such changes will only augment the adaptation efforts of the people of Bangladesh. Owing to its extraordinarily high population density, a stable Bangladesh is necessary for peace to exist in the South Asia region. A shift in the perspective of general people will generate immense support for ecosystem and environmental protection, and Bangladesh may become a glaring example of sustainable development. change adaptation0320151108152449.jpg

According to climate change research not all parts of Bangladesh will be equally affected by the impacts of climate change; some will be more vulnerable than others. Mass migration of climate refugees is expected in the coming years as their livelihoods disappear owing to calamities in nature. In the face of such a conundrum, a sustainable long term solution to such migration issues is required. Conventionally, people of rural and coastal Bangladesh mostly depend on agriculture, aquaculture and fishing for their livelihoods. When these sources will be affected, the local people will have no other option than to move elsewhere in search of relatively secure jobs. This situation can be intervened if alternate employment can be brought to their doorsteps, with insurance of a secure source of income. However, these people often lack the education and technical skills to make themselves compatible with modern production industries. Charity training centers and schools maybe setup to remedy this problem. 

Implementation Strategy: Skilled professionals and teachers from affluent backgrounds will be encouraged to volunteer in these schools where they will spend a certain amount of their spare times developing the professional skills of local people, so that they may find employment in certain industries and businesses willing to invest in their region. If internet accessibility can be ensured, IT industries can outsource their products from the newly skilled labor of those affected regions. The government will have to play a vital part in this process by creating exclusive tax-free economic zones, so that the large companies and conglomerates find incentive to invest in those areas. Economic development in vulnerable regions will happen as a long term repercussion of these steps, bolstering the ability of local population to cope and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Young entrepreneurs may be encouraged to consider those areas for their revolutionary start-ups. The government has to play a proactive role; emphasis must be put upon infrastructural development, so that businesses and industries find it easy to communicate with those regions. 

Potential Challenges: As this solution involves government, businesses and local stakeholders, obvious lack of communication between the concerned parties might give rise to various types of conflict. Resolving these conflicts may pose a plethora of challenges including land and water-use conflicts. An effective and comprehensive framework for progress, as a preemptive step to implementing this idea, might alleviate the aforementioned challenges. Some investors may lack confidence venturing into these regions. However, government assurances and the support of law-enforcement agencies will play a vital role in addressing this issue.

Cost and Identification of Funding: National and private banks may provide special low-interest loan opportunities to the investing companies in order to encourage them. Initially companies might offer some incentives to teachers who agree to voluntarily teach in these schools or centers. This solution is more of a policy-shift stride; it is just an encouragement for willing businesses to expand into this region. A tax free zone would not be a burden to the government because its long term benefits far outweigh its initial costs. 

Expected Outcome: It is expected to directly address the issues of poverty, unemployment, outward mass migration, social security and political stability. Thus the effective vulnerability of the people of those regions from the impacts of climate change will be greatly reduced. Economically, the country will benefit in the long-term, with an increase of GDP. This will help Bangladesh achieve the newly announced Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) more easily. If implemented, this solution may become a model for other nations and regions to follow, especially the ones who have limited resources, and in the face of increasing difficulties coping with the effects of climate change.


November 08, 2015
About Author

Mashrekur Rahman is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Institute of Water & Flood Management, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology and a Climate Reality Leader.

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