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Key findings from Bangladesh NCAP Project

Multiple Authors

Coping Measures: Inherent Resilience

Coping practices are often spontaneous and an immediate response of vulnerable people to different shocks. People use the means that are available to them in order to cope. The livelihood conditions of the people largely depend on the ownership of or access to capital by households which broadly determines their capacity, scope and survival strategy. The asset base is categorized by human, social, natural, physical and financial assets.

Typology of Assets which are used for Coping. Source: PDO-ICZM (2002)

Coping Starts with Strengthening Houses

At the very outset of the study the team made a reconnaissance visit to selected areas. Other than the Pouroshova (an urban centre, where an elected body takes care of local level development and management issues), in most of the unions kacha houses are made of bamboo (muli bamboo) and tin roofs are very common; jute sticks are used as walls and jute fabrics as ceilings. People who are very poor use mud as a house building material. These types of houses are more vulnerable to natural disasters than the brick-built houses of comparatively wealthier families.

Everyone tries to strengthen their houses before the seasons of rainfall and cyclones start. They do this in a manner which is within their means. Usually the foundations of all the houses of Noakhali Sadar and Subarno Char upazila are raised so that the rain water cannot enter the house. Usually they raise the platform to a height which will protect the houses from regular/average flooding from rain water. The families who have some extra money to invest in their houses, raise the platform of their houses above the average height of anticipated rainfall which causes devastating waterlogging condition. The kitchens are also placed on raised platforms.

When the living conditions deteriorate due to excessive rainfall, people move all their household utilities on to a bed where all the family members not only live but also cook. The internal structure of a house has a space in a false ceilingn called a darma. These ceiling-like raised/high platforms are built inside the houses to keep ownership documents/deeds of lands, other important papers/documents, dry food, rice, pulses, salt, sugar (gur), matches, candles, kerosene, quilts, kantha etc. safe and stored in the case of an emergency during the waterlogged period. A staircase made of bamboo usually connects people to the darma.

Ovens are made using mud, tin, and cement and kept on darma in order to use during waterlogged periods/times of flooding. Cooking is done on top of beds using those ovens, which the participants have learned to use via demonstrations/publically performed mass communication campaigns. Raised platforms for urination and defecation purposes are also constructed from bamboo

Houses outside the embankments are usually raised on even higher platforms, allowing the regular tidal surges to flow without any interruption. This platform is about 4 to 5ft high. Then on this raised platform people again raise another platform, about 1 to 2ft high, building the house on this secondary raised platform. This secondary raised platform helps to protect the house from abnormal tidal surges. People do post-harvesting activities on the primary raised platform. Other than this two-stage raised platform, the internal arrangements of the houses outside the embankments are almost the same as the houses inside. The financial conditions of the households outside the embankments are the worst. Most of the houses here are built of mud. There are latrines in some houses, but the overall sanitation conditions are not at all satisfactory.

People carry out preparations before the cyclone season starts. Preparations depend on their capacity to invest. Usually they tie the corners of their house with strong ropes or wires to the ground. To protect from rain they repair the ceiling almost every year. Walls made of mud and ceilings made of jute sticks or leaves are especially taken care of before the rain comes or cyclones strike. People who are very poor and do not have the means to repair their houses with minimal effort, take shelter in a neighbor’s house, adjacent school or madrasa. During the waterlogging, livestock shelters in the same room as the family lives. Very few families can afford the luxury of keeping a separate shed for cattle which is locally called a Goal Ghar.

Coping Strategies for Agriculture

As agriculture is the main sector of economy in Noakhali Sadar and Subarno Char upazila, a detail edeffort has been initiated to study the corrolation of changes in cropping patterns with different climatic events. Different cropping patterns are followed in different unions of the same upazila. The pattern depends on land type, salinity, land quality, availability of irrigation facilities etc. The practiced cropping behaviors of the selected sample sites of Nokhali Sadar and Subarno Char upazila are summarized later. Details of agricultural coping practices are also described in later.

Coping Strategies Taken by the Fishing Community

For the past 15 to 20 years culture fisheries have been kept by the inhabitants of Noakhali Sadar upazila. In some areas of Subarno Char, which are in the southern part of the upazila and close to the Meghna River, some people prefer to catch fish in open water.

It is understandable that the problems of culture fisheries and the fishermen who fish on open water are not the same. The fishermen who only depend on fishing and do not have any other trade or business also have unique problems. Fish traders have business throughout the year, but fishermen in culture fisheries face employment insecurity in dry seasons, especially in the month of Falgun and Chaitro due to the drying up of the ponds. They then employ ‘crisis coping’ strategies which will be discussed later on. Fishermen who fish in the rivers/sea must have equipment to pre-warn them of cyclones. They have radios in their trawlers and head into shore following the alarm signal. However, they are not alerted before the danger signal reaches 8, they have reported.

For the fishermen involved in culture fisheries, excessive rainfall and waterlogging cause severe devastation to their livelihoods. During the waterlogging in October 2004, every fisherman suffered serious losses as their fish spilled over the banks of the ponds. Consequently they have raised the banks of their ponds to a height which can cope with a regular waterlogged conditions as well as an extreme height of water. Another coping method is to net the whole surface of the pond to prevent the fish from escaping. People who can afford this netting can try this coping strategy. However, fishermen, who are very poor and cannot afford these methods, have to accept the reality that they do not have any control over the situation. They seek alternative livelihoods like day labor, rickshaw pulling, small trade etc.

Coping with Food Insecurity

As mentioned earlier, people face seasonal food insecurity. ‘Security’, means the availability of food three times a day. Here, the question of food quality is not relevant. Focus group members agree on the changes in their food intake both in terms of quantity and quality. As shown in the figures below, their protein intake has drastically decreased in recent years, although it shows improvement for the families of fishermen, who can regularly eat fish. Pulses have always been a major source of protein for poor people. The preferred variety was mung, however people could easily afford mosuri. Now mosuri is too expensive for the majority of people. They now eat cow-peas (buter dal) which used to be used as cow fodder. This fall in protein intake causes serious nutritional problems, especially in children and pregnant women. In the months of food insecurity, mentioned earlier, the families often exist in famine-like conditions (locally known as monga). During monga they do not have their usual three meals a day. For fishing households, the dry season of Falgun-Chaitro brings food insecurity, Ashwin-Kartik for farmers, and Ashar-Srabon for day laborers. Often they cope with extreme food insecurity by consuming smaller amounts of food, and most often by forfeiting one or two meals a day. In addition, they avoid unnecessary movement, thereby conserving energy and pass most of their time sleeping. Carbohydrates form the major part of their food intake during these times of food insecurity.

Women were specifically asked how they manage this lack of food security. Often women collect vegetables from common property resources (tokano). In most cases food priority is given to the male member of the household. Then the remaining food is distributed among the old and children. Women come last. If something is left over they can have that.

To face natural disasters women often store dried food within polythene packs and store it on darma in their house as a coping mechanism.

Availability of Safe Drinking Water

Both in Noakhali Sadar and Subarno Char, people take water from tubewells for drinking. They are aware of the problem of arsenic. Not every household possesses a tubewell. Those who do not have a tubewell in their house have to go to a neighbor’s house, school or madrasa to fetch drinking water. Usually the women or children in the family are responsible for this job.

When there is excessive rainfall and waterlogged conditions, sometimes polluted water reaches the water level of tubewells, and then it is extremely difficult to obtain safe drinking water. During waterlogging or flooding, water is purified either by boiling or by using alum (fitkari). However, as electricity is not readily available during flooding so it is difficult to boil water for drinking. Rainwater is collected to use as drinking water when all the tubewells become flooded. On top of this, wood is stored on darma to be used as firewood for boiling pondwater.

The inhabitants of the Subarno Char in particular, had previously been used to drinking water from shallow tubewells. But now-a-days, with the dissemination of knowledge, they usually drink water from deep tubewells since the chance of water being contaminated is much lower. In the past, when they did not have any specific knowledge of contamination, they used to drink surface water as well.

Coping with Energy Insecurity

Biomass is still the most important source of energy. But as the common property resources decrease over time and agriculture tends to depend on technology rather than animal power, the availability of cow dung has decreased. In farmers’ families agricultural residues are an important source of energy, while the families of fishermen are largely dependent on fuels bought from the markets. Dried-up maize plants, paddy straw, roots and branches/creepers (lata) of bean plants etc. are used as firewood for cooking. During waterlogged periods this fuel is stored on darma.

Coping with Disasters

Households adopt a wide range of strategies to cope with crisis. Sometimes, immediately after or during the crisis, people take out loans from local Mahajans (wealthy people) which high interest rates (usually 100 tk. interest per month for 1000 tk. of loan) to deal with their emergency needs. If, during or just after waterlogging or drought, diarrhea and other diseases breakout they often resort to informal loans. Often in this situation they sell their assets. Of course, selling land is the last resort for them.

Seasonal migration is very common, especially during the dry season when farmers cannot cultivate land due to salinity or lack of irrigation facilities. People often leave their houses and go to nearby cities in search of job opportunities.


The project also looked at gender aspects of adaptation in Noakhali District. The results are this analysis can be found here.

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Bangladesh NCAP Project

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Methodology of Bangladesh NCAP Project

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Gender and Adaptation in Noakhali District

Lessons learned from Bangladesh NCAP Project

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