Critical role of land in solving climate displacement
Ezekiel Simperingham, Md. Shahjahan

  • Displacement Solutions and YPSA visiting climate affected communities on Sandwip Island, Chittagong 
    Photo- EZEKIEL SIMPERINGHAM

For some vulnerable communities in Bangladesh, the most effective climate adaptation strategy may be the planned relocation to new homes and new lands -- far from the constant threat of natural hazards where they can rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Last week’s issue talked about the urgent need for rights-based solutions to climate displacement in Bangladesh and the principles which these solutions should be built on. One such solution is the planned relocation for those communities which have already been displaced and are living in temporary shelters in vulnerable environments.

The Comprehensive Disaster Management Program of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief of Bangladesh has stated that  “where some areas become uninhabitable, Bangladesh needs to prepare for relocation.’’ However, to date ,anticipatory and reactive planned relocations in response to natural disasters and climate change have received insufficient attention in Bangladesh.

In part, the lack of attention given to planned relocations is because of the difficulties in ensuring safe and suitable land for climate displaced people -- in one of the most densely populated countries on Earth.

Fortunately, unlike many other countries facing the challenge of climate displacement and requiring land solutions, Bangladesh already has laws and policies in place to provide new homes and lands to persons in need. These include the provision of state-owned (khas) land to landless persons and the cluster village projects to relocate and rehabilitate persons on new land with new homes. With significant improvements, these measures could provide a cornerstone to land-based solutions to climate displacement in Bangladesh.

Although the distribution of khas land and the various relocation projects are often based on good laws and policies -- in practice they face serious challenges in their implementation, including the improper selection of beneficiaries, the selection of inappropriate sites for relocation, a lack of basic facilities at the relocation sites, such as water and sanitation, a lack of secure tenure and a lack of access to socio-economic support, including education, healthcare, livelihood options and transport and communication infrastructure. As a result, persons provided with khas land or relocated under the village cluster projects often choose not to remain on the new land.

One of the Government Ashrayan (cluster village) projects is located in Bhayarkhil of Barabkund Union under Sitakund, Chittagong. In 2000, 60 families were provided with 60 houses on the site, but due to ongoing problems, including water scarcity, a lack of electricity and communication difficulties, 40 families have already left the relocation site and the remaining families are planning to leave.  

The Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP) has provided essential support to the climate vulnerable inhabitants of char lands. Although the project is limited in scope -- being mainly implemented in the south-east of the country and on char lands that continue to be vulnerable to climate hazards, and often with weak transport and communication links -- there are many good features of the CDSP which should be incorporated in any land solutions to climate displacement. These include strong implementation and a focus on security of tenure for all beneficiaries.

The relocation of affected households related to the Padma Bridge Project also provides a good example of ensuring the rights of relocated persons within Bangladesh. The project followed a rights based approach and ensured that affected persons were consulted throughout the planning and rehabilitation process. Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) were prepared to address and mitigate the adverse impacts on the lives and livelihoods of affected persons.

In designing and implementing land based solutions to climate displacement there is much to be learnt from the khas land distribution process, the cluster village projects and the CDSP and Padma Bridge project. However, Bangladesh should also draw on international experience and guidance including the “Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement within States” which provides important guidance on land based solutions to climate displacement, including on the planned relocation of communities. The forthcoming guidance from Brookings, Georgetown University and UNHCR, on planned relocations related to natural hazards and climate change, will also be valuable to Bangladesh.

Land based solutions will be critical to facing the challenge of climate displacement in Bangladesh. However, beyond drawing on national and international experience to improve the existing land programs -- and to design new laws, policies and programs to ensure land solutions to climate displacement -- what is also required is genuine political willingness to make land available to those who most need it, including the vulnerable climate displaced persons of Bangladesh. 

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Ezekiel Simperingham

Ezekiel Simperingham is an international human rights lawyer and Coordinator of the Bangladesh HLP Initiative. www.displacementsolutions.org.  

Md. Shahjahan

Md Shahjahan is Team Leader of the Bangladesh HLP Initiative for Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). www.ypsa.org