Tracking Community Perspectives on Climate Resilience in Bangladesh
Bangladesh, which generates a meagre 0.56% of global carbon emissions, is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate risk. Its geographic position and flat, low-lying topography expose its southern coast to deadly cyclones and storm surges sweeping in from the Bay of Bengal. Climate change is exacerbating these hazards, jeopardizing the lives of a densely-packed population made more vulnerable by poverty and reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and fisheries. Between 2000 and 2019, it is estimated that extreme weather events led to combined losses of $3.72 billion.
Bangladesh has substantially reduced disaster death tolls and damage through the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) with its 76,000+ volunteers. But – as the government’s own climate and development policies make clear – adapting to climate change will take more than simply disaster preparedness and response. Effective adaptation requires engaging with at-risk communities across the country to understand the specific climate-driven hazards they face and the resources they need to protect themselves and adopt new ways of living and working.
In mid-2022, Ground Truth Solutions (GTS), International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and IIED surveyed the opinions of more than 2,300 citizens in three upazilas (sub-districts) of Bangladesh particularly vulnerable to climate risk; Shyamnagar, Golachipa and Sirajganj Sadar (figure 1). The study had three distinct objectives:
1. Capture the views of vulnerable communities on climate risks, priorities for adaptation, quality of support received, level of engagement and their own sense of resilience, to share with those working on adaptation and resilience.
2. Establish a baseline of local perceptions of progress in adaptation, against which to track community-evaluated success over time.
3. Explore the potential of the methodology to fill engagement gapsleft by existing monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches, and to elevate the opinions of vulnerable people in a way that influences adaptation policy and practice.
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In 2022, the opinions of more than 2,300 citizens were surveyed in three areas of Bangladesh. The process was based on GTS’s Constituent Voice methodology, which is an iterative process prioritizing genuine engagement. It differs from other assessment methods in three important ways:
‘Discuss’ principle:Dialogue needs to happen throughout projects. Consistent discussions with practitioners are complemented by deeper dives with communities, where surveyors or local facilitators present the primary data back through community events, focus groups, workshops and interviews. These conversations add nuance to the numbers and help generate community recommendations.
•Iterative, agile approach: GTS’s research methods have two tracks. Diagnostic quantitative surveys enable managers to track changes in perceptions over time and deploy surveys rapidly after disasters. Qualitative discussions dig deeper, deliver more detailed information and are therefore more likely to lead to action by practitioners. This combination is likely to lead to improved outcomes over time.
•Course correction: Iterative approach allows managers and policy-makers to understand the effectiveness or shortcomings of programmes and make course corrections in real time. Sometimes – in the case of project-specific improvements – this is straightforward. Other times it means understanding barriers to action at a higher level (e.g. funding conditions, coordination shortcomings, bureaucracy) and advocating for policy reforms so that managers have the space to be more responsive to communities.
Bangladesh has become a strong voice for climate-vulnerable countries, but internally its vulnerability is not homogenous. Shyamnagar, Golachipa and Sirajganj Sadar, where the surveys were conducted, are three upazilas or sub-districts facing a host of different hazards. Many government and non-governmental agencies are implementing projects in these areas to enhance the resilience of local communities. But investment has not been equal.
Shyamnagar is well-known for being a test site for climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) and has received considerably more investment than the other two upazilas. Golachipa has also received considerable adaptation assistance, though less than Shyamnagar. For this reason, Shyamnagar and Golachipa were analyzed together, as community feedback was more comparable in these two relatively well-served sub-districts.
By contrast, the citizens of Sirajganj Sadar – one of the most disaster-prone regions in Bangladesh and highly vulnerable to heatwaves, floods and riverbank erosion – feel they have been left to fend for themselves. For this reason, GTS analyzed the data from this sub-district separately, to highlight its more stark needs.
The sample aimed to cover the general population in six unions covering the three different upazilas. After consulting GTS’ partners at ICCCAD, these locations were deliberately selected based on their high degrees of vulnerability to climate change impacts, as well as on the climate change adaptation and disaster risk management interventions active in the area.
The survey was designed in a workshop in Dhaka, in collaboration with ICCCAD and IIED, blending known community proxies for adaptation and resilience with GTS’ tested quality metrics adapted from the humanitarian space. Questions were designed to be either binary, multiple choice or using Likert scales (scales from 1-5, sometimes known as “satisfaction scales”)
Focus group discussions and key informant interviews were also organized to enable a more in-depth analysis of our quantitative data. Using a semi-structured questionnaire, facilitators from ICCCAD spoke to 192 people through 12 focus groups and 48 interviews in Munshiganj and Buri Goalini (Shyamnagar), Galachipa and Panpatti (Golachipa), Sirajganj Pourashabha and Kalia Haripur (Sirajganj Sadar). All interviews were recorded with consent and transcribed and translated by ICCCAD.
Geographic inequality: a tale of three upazilas
Shyamnagar and Golachipa: measuring the gap
In the coastal Shyamnagar and Golachipa, 1,571 people were interviewed, and gaps were mapped between communities’ (typically high) expectations and their (often lower) perceptions of the reality on the ground helps identify priorities for adapting and improving interventions (figure 2).
Figure 2. Mapping of gaps between community expectations and perceptions regarding efforts building climate resilience in Shyamnagar and Golachipa.
On the whole, people in these two sub-districts feel that adaptation programmes are falling short of their expectations. The gap is widest for transparency, both financial and with respect to targeting criteria. On the former, people don’t know how funding to deal with the impacts of climate change is spent in their area. On the latter, they don’t know how organisations choose who receives support and who doesn’t. The gap for local influence over how funding is spent is nearly as wide.
Surveys also suggest that whilst 50 years of investment has paid off – as has been witnessed in reduced deaths and increased preparedness – community resilience is way off. Key findings include:
- More should be done to ensure that everyone receives warning messages in a timely and relevant manner.
- Damaged, destroyed or ineffective embankments are a constant problem, similarly to the condition of roads which are frequently submerged or damaged.
- Relief and response are appreciated, but more adaptation options for resilience and recovery are needed.
- Past projects have not benefitted enough people, and need to be implemented on a much wider scale.
- Half of the people interviewed do not feel heard by decision makers, and 86% of people in Shyamnagar and Golachipa felt that there are people in their community who were left out.
Feeling abandoned and ignored – the case of Sirajganj Sadar
Sirajganj Sadar is well-known for being one of the most disaster-prone regions in Bangladesh, highly vulnerable to floods and riverbank erosion, but also to heatwaves and droughts. Many disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation projects have taken place in the wider area, aiming to increase community resilience, mostly to floods. Yet, only just over half of all people surveyed say they have access to early warnings or access to information on how to prepare for disasters, and 62% say they have access to weather forecasts (figure 3). This compares poorly with the two coastal sub-districts surveyed, where the responses to all questions are 96% or more.
Figure 3. Survey results assessing the access to early war ing information in SirajganjSadar
Other shortfalls were revealed as well. Key survey findings include:
- Some 62% of 796 respondents said that they do not receive any support from either the government or NGOs to help dealing with climate change impacts.
- Most common interventions in the area are disaster relief measures
- More investment in climate-resilient infrastructure and public services are needed
- People do not know who to turn for help. Most respondents in the interviews felt ignored by the government agencies and NGOs – only 11% felt that their community members have a say in the support they receive (figure 4).
Figure 4. Survey results assessing the influence persons have over the support they receive
Efforts to improve information-sharing on preparedness and early warning are mostly working. But while the majority of people surveyed in the two coastal areas feel sufficiently informed, those surveyed in Sirajganj Sadar do not.
Adaptation programmes are deemed unfair. People say many vulnerable people are left out, citing favouritism, mismanagement and opaque decision-making.
Communities are demanding greater transparency. Without it, they draw their own conclusions about how decisions are made and do not trust decision-makers.
There are limited opportunities to participate and provide feedback in climate adaptation programming. Some people do not even feel comfortable providing feedback for fear of reprisal.
People do not feel that short-term interventions prepare them for complex climate crises. Timely messages and disaster relief only go so far in the face of infrastructure shortfalls and precarious livelihoods.
Projects with a longer-term approach are noted and appreciated. But communities say they benefit relatively few people and need to be scaled-up.
Feedback points to changing community priorities. With most aid programming in Sirajganj Sadar focused on floods, people now feel that other, harder-to-address risks need attention. Three-quarters of respondents from the inland sub-district highlight heatwaves as the hazard of most concern to them.
The data that underpins this report offers a baseline. Its power will emerge by continuing to track people’s views over time, surfacing what communities see as working – and what’s not. The hope is that their feedback becomes both a driver of better performance and a measure of programme impact. To this end, the plan is to continue to work in the three sub-districts covered by this report and to extend coverage to all those areas included in the new National Adaptation Plan.
GTS also plans to co-design an “adaptation capacity analysis” with communities that places more emphasis on community dignity and capacity, and less on vulnerability and sectors. The focus will be on community agency, and how local entities, government and the international system (in that order) can best provide support. This will be tracked over time to see how community perceptions change and, in the process, the aim is to demonstrate that such a co- design process leads to better outcomes for community members.
Ultimately, the goal is to encourage the inclusion of the community perspective in every aspect of climate adaptation, from individual projects to global policy.
Ground Truth Solutions, ICCCAD and IIED (2023). “We are not getting the support we need to lead a better life”: Community Perspectives on Climate Resilience in Bangladesh, Ground Truth Solutions.