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Helping rural communities in Bangladesh adapt to climate change

Following the Durban talks in December on tackling climate change, the foreign minister of Bangladesh criticised developed countries for failing to distribute funds aimed at helping poorer countries adapt to environmental change.

Industrialised nations promised to provide 30 billion dollars to the world’s most vulnerable countries by the end of 2012. So far, less than 3 billion dollars has been made available and the Bangladesh minister, Dipu Moni, described this as “dismal”.

In an article published in the Guardian, Dr Moni explained how vulnerable countries like Bangladesh were being “marginalised”, even while they faced ever-increasing dangers from global warming. Around half of worldwide deaths caused by tropical cyclones occur in Bangladesh and with its low-lying lands and dependence on agriculture, communities are extremely vulnerable to long-term damage from flooding and storm surges. For example, in 2009, cyclone Aila destroyed many homes and livelihoods when it struck the south-western coastal region of Bangladesh. 4,000km of roads and embankments were damaged, many of which have yet to be repaired.

Dipu Moni has called on rich industrialised nations to adhere to their commitments to provide financial support to developing countries. Unless the pledged 30 billion dollars is provided, countries like Bangladesh will be made even more vulnerable to the impact of climate events. “[Developing] countries are having to make all the difficult....[and] very expensive choices,” she said, when it came to investing in infrastructure and other methods of protecting citizens. Bangladesh is already doing what it can to safeguard the livelihoods of communities for the future, such as funding research and development into crop varieties which are resistant to flooding or salinity.

Rising sea levels and storms threaten many agricultural communities. In a Guardian article this week, one Bangladeshi shrimp farmer describes how a huge surge in the Kholpatua river caused by cyclone Aila drove water over 30 feet-high embankments to completely destroy his village and their shrimp ponds in 2009. Nobody from his village was killed, but the sludge left by the water ruined their shrimp farms.

With around 15 million Bangladeshis living around the Bay of Bengal and areas vulnerable to climate change, migration to other parts of the country is not a realistic option. Villagers therefore depend on support from the government or non-governmental organisations (NGO) to help them rebuild their homes and livelihoods. One NGO in the region is BRAC, which is working in conjunction with the UN Development Programme to build storm and flood-resistant buildings and promote alternative activities such as crab farming and growing salt-tolerant rice and maize. Such targeted local initiatives are desperately needed to get communities back on their feet. The promised funding from the international community would be one way to widen access to such help.

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