Bangladesh is one of the victims of the negative impacts of climate change despite its minimal contribution to the Global GHG emission (less than 1%) and is considered one of the most vulnerable countries of the world. Bangladesh is ranked sixth in the Global Climate Risk Vulnerability Index-2017 as per Bangladesh Climate Change Profile – a report by Dutch Government (2018) and is the 25th least ready country to combat climate change impacts. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh is currently ranked as one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, with 97.1% of its total area and 97.7% of the total population at risk of multiple hazards, including cyclones.1
The country is situated at the bottom of three of the mightiest rivers system: the Ganges (Padma), the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna (GBM). Being one of the largest deltas of the world, Bangladesh experiences a monsoon type climate. Generally, the western part of the country is drier and the eastern part experiences heavy rainfall. With 80% of the surface forming floodplain the country is prone to flooding and experiences flooding almost every year, which inundates 25% of the total area on an average.2
Coastal erosion is the most crucial climate stressor in the coastal area. The annual rate of accretion of Urir Char Island has decreased from 5.84km2 per year between 2007–2010, to 1.05km2 per year between 2010–2013.3 Urir Char was selected as the study area due to location of vulnerability level to disasters. Urir Char is a river island located next to Sandwip (another island) under the Chittagong district in southeastern Bangladesh.4 The island was formed in 1970–71.The first generation that settled in this char had relocated from Sandwip in 1980/81, due to coastal erosion taking away their land. Coastal people of different islands move on from one another by facing devasting impacts of natural disasters. Internal island migration is a common practice along the coastline from the generation to generation. Coastal erosion has eroded two-thirds of Urir Char. Coastal erosion has always happened on the islands, but climate change has caused the erosion rate to increase in recent years, with sea level rise having a long-term effect on coastal erosion in Bangladesh.5Coastal erosion is the main cause of poverty, low literacy rate, unemployment and poor infrastructure at household and community level in Uri Char. Every household in Urir Char has faced displacement three to seven times.
Loss and damage is inevitable for the geographical context of Urir char. According to a Human Rights Watch study, natural disasters like coastal erosion and cyclones encourage child marriage. Families who see their land eroding rush to marry off their daughters before they are displaced.6 Due to economic stagnation and lack of educational institutions on the island, it is a common phenomenon for children in Urir Char to drop out of school. Displaced people also lose their support network as they leave their neighbours behind. They feel like outsiders in the new settlement and are marginalised economically and socially. Some L&D cannot be measured in economic value. The pain of losing loved ones, house and property is lifelong for people. People in Urir Char work hard to construct their homes and prepare their agricultural land, which is then lost multiple times to coastal erosion. As a result, people suffer from psychological trauma all their life.
It has been observed that most of the plans, policies, and strategies have component of disaster management, food security, social security and infrastructure related issues – those are mostly related to adaptation stream. The higher vulnerability of this country to climate change and climate induced disaster could be the reason behind it, and thus have been always a priority areas for the government, researcher and the policy makers. Moreover, adaptation is a well-recognized track by both developed and developing country parties. On the other hand, L&D is a recent inclusion in the global climate discussion with strong opposition from the key developed country players. And for those reasons, in most policies, the issue of Loss & Damage that the communities have to bear every year is not clearly displayed in LDCs like Bangladesh.
Another gap identified in climate change policies is the lack of attention given in addressing climate induced displacement issue. This issue has both economic and non-economic costs. As researchers and academicians have stated, Bangladesh will incur highest number of climate migrants and need effective adaptive measures to absorb the migrant flow to urban areas; policies concerning climate change must have sections assigned for climate induced migrants.7 Other gap includes availability of and access to quality data on Ccimate change with special reference to L&D in most of the LDCs including Bangladesh. Polices in Bangladesh mostly rely on data those have collected long back, however, the geomorphological features as well as many other features have changed over time and science has progressed much to capture those. Policies must depend on current data as much as possible and keep provision for dissemination of updated climate change information at different levels including most vulnerable communities.8 Further, it is also important to address non-climatic stressor as they may influence climate stressor and worsen consequences. Non-climatic stressor include socio-economic differences, institutional dynamics, nepotism when disseminating financial assistance, and power.9
Climate change is not only a threat to life and livelihood of the people of Bangladesh but also a developmental issue. Due to higher vulnerability, Bangladesh is burdened with increased climate induced loss and damages. Cyclones, flood, riverbank erosion, storm surges, salinity intrusion, drought, and erratic rainfalls every year have resulted in huge economic losses. Economic losses such as crop damage, embankment breaching, impaired structures, etc have been quantified, and monetary value has been calculated. However, the non-economic losses often remain beyond quantification and unstated like loss of life, culture, places with emotional attachments, biodiversity loss, etc in Bangladesh. Further research on these issues is required. Using technology to assess L&D and manage coastal management should be facilitated through scientific research. People need to be trained to face coastal erosion and cyclones with coping and adaptation mechanisms. All development and Climate related policies must include Loss and Damage explicitly at the core. Loss and Damage issue need to be taken beyond symbolic confines and National Mechanism to be established & operationalize sooner. For advancement of this approach, there is a need for a coordinated initiative and enhanced cooperation within government and among knowledge leaders as well as NGOs, research organizations, academia and civil society.
“From the multilateral funds, around $650 million has been so far committed to Bangladesh for climate adaptation. And in the last 10 years or so, we have received less than …