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Climate Adaptation In Bangladesh – A case study on tracking adaptation funding

How much is spent on country level adaptation projects? What types of projects are funded? And where are these projects?
image from case study on tracking adaptation

Introduction – Climate Adaptation In Bangladesh

“Follow the money” was the infamous advice given to Woodward and Bernstein to uncover the Watergate scandal. For the EMAPS project this seems like a sensible approach to exploring climate change adaptation, although forcing a head of state to resign seems like an unlikely outcome. Despite the massive increase in international funding for adaptation (+34% in 2013), it is still unclear what happens to funds once they are disbursed (Caravani et al, 2013). How much is spent on country level adaptation projects? What types of projects are funded? And where are these projects? These questions are unclear for most countries in receipt of adaptation funding. With the help and advice of Saleem Huq from IIED and Lindsey Jones at the ODI we decided to investigate the nature of adaptation in Bangladesh. From the available data, how can we better understand adaptation in this country?

This article is part of the Climaps project by EMAPS. If you want to learn more about the project, please read more in this article.

Figure 1: from Climate Vulnerability in Bangladesh. Original version by BCAS Gis Division. Click to enlarge.

Bangladesh provides an ideal case study, it represents a laboratory for international adaptation policies. It is also one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change for several reasons:

  • Its biophysical resources, particularly water, are highly sensitive to climate variability and change.
  • Bangladesh is at risk of almost every type of natural disaster including: cyclones, drought, earthquakes, tornados and flooding.
  • It has a very low lying geography, with half of the country at or below 6 metres above sea level. A 1 metre sea level rise would result in 10% of the land flooding.
  • Exacerbating its environmental risks, the human geography makes adaptation more of a challenge. Bangladesh has a high population density. It is the 8th largest population in the world, and the 12th most densely populated. The combined populations of the top 11 most densely populated countries would fit into Bangladesh’s largest city Dhaka. It is by far the largest densely populated country in the world (United Nations, 2008).
  • Bangladesh is also a very poor country with 26% of the population living on less than $2 per day, despite growth rates of 4-6% in recent years (World Bank, 2014).

The combination of these factors means that Bangladesh is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and in need of international support to adapt. The figure above shows the different risks present within this one country.

Bangladeshi climate adaptation funding

Bangladesh’s extreme vulnerability has pushed different actors to plan and implement adaptation projects in the country. According to a dataset of projects collated by the EMAPS team, since 2003 the number of projects in Bangladesh has risen (data for 2013 is incomplete). One project per year in 2003 and 2008, then 16 in 2010, 22 in 2011 and 27 in 2012.

The increase in the number of projects is mirrored by an increased capacity to attract international adaptation finance. Since 2003 it has attracted pledges of over $1 billion. Unfortunately most of these pledges have not yet materialised in Bangladesh – much of the funding is still to be disbursed.

Figure 2: from Increase of Bangladesh adaptation projects. View of “What is an adaptation project (I)”. Year of adaptation in Bangladesh and India, based on combined dataset of projects. Click to see main Issue maps.

Figure 3: from Streamgraph of the pledged and disbursed funds for adaptation in Bangladesh. Click to see main Issue maps.

Different priorities show the challenge and contradictory efforts needed to adapt to climate change in Bangladesh. As can be seen in the scatterplot below, projects addressing drought get the most amount of funding, whereas there are many more flooding projects. The risks connected to sea level rise receive a significant amount of money but with fewer projects.

Figure 8: from Scatterplot of number of projects and amount of funding for different risks addressed by adaptation actions in Bangladesh. Click to see main Issue maps.

The scatterplot below shows a relative concentration of the funds invested for the adaptation in Bangladesh in a few strategies (training, river management, solar irrigation pumps, cyclone shelters, river management and afforestation). The 5 projects on afforestation in particular collects almost $50 million, much more than any other strategy. The position of river management is also notable in that not only does it collect a significant amount of money (more than $20 million), but also concerns a high number of projects (22).

Figure 9: from Scatterplot of number of projects and amount of funding for different adaptation strategies. Click to see main Issue maps.


There are many different actors trying to help Bangladesh adapt to climate change. From international actors such as the World Bank, to individual contributions from regional partners such as Japan, to the government’s own efforts an extraordinary amount of effort and funding is being channeled into the country. It is the frontline in the fight against climate change.

Despite this effort, the picture of what is being done is unclear. International actors focus on big projects such as electrification, dams, and other infrastructure projects, while the government is left to repair polders and provide cooking stoves, cyclone shelters, and training on new crop techniques to support the local population. If we cannot be clear how Bangladesh is adapting to climate change, it seems that investigations into other countries adapting to climate change will be even harder.

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