CBA Bangladesh: Coping with Climate Risks by Empowering Women in Coastal Areas
This article extracts some key messages from the report on lessons learned from selected UNDP-GEF community-based adaptation projects.
Bangladesh’s poor communities rely on the country’s large water bodies and wetlands to support their livelihoods; the country’s wetlands, in particular, are invaluable components. The ecology and biodiversity are an integral part of the country’s local ecosystem-based cultures, which encompass a wide variety of dynamic ecosystems. The project area in Bangladesh, Dashmina Upazila under Patuakhali district, has low socio-economic development, inadequate infrastructure, lack of institutional capacity and high dependency on natural resources. These characteristics make the area highly vulnerable to climate change-induced weather incidents and their corresponding short- and long-term impacts.
The target communities of this CBA Bangladesh project already faced massive devastation of land and biodiversity from climate change related events, such as cyclones Sidr and Aila, which tore through Dashmina Upazila in 2010. The cyclones caused heavy rains and high tides that inundated the southern coastal region and resulted in unprecedented damage, including land and ecosystem degradation. Due to continuing climate change variations, the communities experience storm surges, drought, high tide and salinity intrusion, which are changing their natural environment and affecting the communities’ livelihoods. Shifts in community agricultural lands from ‘non-flood prone’ to ‘moderately or extremely flood-prone’, for example, have led to significant agricultural yield reduction and have put communities’ food security at risk. Once known as a granary, and a major contributor to national food production, today, farmers in the project area are landless, and community members suffer from food shortages, which make them dependent on others for food supply.
The project ‘Coping with Climate Risks by Empowering Women in Coastal Areas’ reduced the vulnerability to climate change of community members through capacity-building and awareness-raising workshops on sustainable adaptation practices. The project reached over 40,000 people (56 percent male and 44 percent female) whose livelihoods depend on the land, either for agricultural production or farming comprising 95 percent of the population in the project area.
This project introduced seed banks to protect climate-resilient crop genetic materials that would otherwise be washed out by storms and floods. This enabled the community members to maintain their self-sufficiency in food grain production. Concurrently, workshops on quality seedling management and nursery techniques were provided for the development of tree nurseries and plantations. The tree nurseries and plantations conserved plants used for wetland replanting programs and for establishing green protection belts that hold back cyclones and storm surges. As a result of the development of seed banks and tree nurseries, agricultural biodiversity product yields have increased in the project area. They provided many benefits: they produced local fruit plants to supplement the nutritional demand, provided food for birds and wildlife, and produced saline-tolerant saplings in response to increased saltwater intrusion in the area.
Due to social norms, women and children are culturally excluded from government services: agriculture, livestock, and health, including maternal and child health (MCH). Despite government interventions to remove such barriers, the rural areas of Bangladesh, especially in remote areas such as the project site in Dashmina Upazila, are still affected. The centralization of power that governs relationships within small communities also works against the discriminated community members groups such as women. These groups tend to be less educated (project area average literacy rate for men is 36.5 percent and 22.7 percent for women, while national average is 32.4 percent), have less access to information, have restricted rights and fewer assets, and have no voice in the decision-making process. Inequality in the distribution of rights, resources and power hinder the discriminated groups’ ability to take action, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to climate change.
The CBA project in Bangladesh focused on climate change awareness-building activities, coping strategies and nutritional needs, and social mobilization of community members with a special focus on women. It established Women Resource Centres (WRC) designed to operate like a CBO.
Women Resource Centres are established at the village level, and are a unique platform for marginalized women to have access to, and control over, resources such as agriculture products, bargaining skills and negotiation power. They are made up of 20 marginalized women, are led by an elected female leader, and serve as a bridging mechanism to diff erent service-providing organizations and CBOs that support women in other areas including livelihoods, health & sanitation, and agriculture. The services that WRCs provide in CBA project areas apply a participatory approach and ensure that proper consultations with the targeted beneficiaries take place.
The WRCs in the CBA Bangladesh project areas managed the tree nurseries and seed banks that increased agricultural yields. Part of their function was to distribute the seeds of fruits propagated in the nurseries to the community members for home-based planting. This allowed women to generate income while taking care of their other household obligations. Adolescent girls and disabled persons from the marginalized community also participated in, and benefi ted from the WRCs. In addition to providing income-generating activities, the WRCs helped to increase leadership and organization capacities by tasking WRC members with the development of additional WRCs. This effort doubled the number of WRCs in the project area (from four to eight).
Equitable investment and egalitarian approach: The needs of women and girls must be integrated into the climate change adaptation investments and promote outcomes that equally benefit men, women, boys and girls. An egalitarian approach must be employed to ensure the removal of power centralization and economic and social inequalities that is implicit at the community level.
Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) projects target poor, vulnerable communities who in a lot of cases, live in very remote areas. In addition to their lack of access to support and services to help them cope with climate risks, the hidden powers that govern these communities lead to the marginalization of certain groups. As such, the marginalized groups become more vulnerable to climate risks. This case study highlights the importance of social inclusion and mainstreaming marginalized groups while building their capacity in adapting to climate change impacts and its variability.
This case study highlights the importance of assessing the vulnerabilities of local communities and the groups within the communities. The climate change impacts and other contributing factors (socio-economic status, cultural norms, centralized power that govern the communities) that increase the vulnerabilities of marginalized groups need to be assessed in order to appropriately address the needs of each community member in the project activities and outcomes.