An evidence of Locally Led Adaptation
Bangladesh is making quite a good number of progress on the strategic front to take climate action. The country has Disaster Risk Reduction strategies and Nationally Determined Contributions(NDC) developed and updated regularly. The Perspective Plan 2021-2041 focusing on building the resilience of the country to climate change and other environmental challenges as one of the strategic goals to make vision 2041 a reality is an important strategy towards climate action. Additionally, an important and comprehensive strategy that was adopted by the country named Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 accounts for managing the risks posed by the deltaic formation of the country along with the incidence of natural disasters and climate change. Furthermore, Bangladesh is also accessing the Green Climate Fund and reaching the vulnerable communities with these funds.
Not only at the policy and strategy side, but there are also several local initiatives being taken at the community level. There are several pieces of evidence on the ground which have been encouraging the movement against Climate Change in the country. For example, ‘Mother’s Parliament’ (MP) is a locally-led initiative that has secured the ‘People’s Choice Award’ in ChangeMakers Award by Global Water Partnership. This is interesting that the highest number of people have liked the journey of the climate champions out of 350 competitors from different corners of the globe. But the question is why they liked it and voted for the initiative?
The answer is probably here while Mosammat Sufia Khatun, the Speaker of MP from Morrelganj, Bagerhat, who said, “We want our actions that have been replicated in other areas of the country to be taken up abroad.” The significant feature is that it is an easily replicable idea and practice, it is led by the community people themselves. So, what is the MP? And what does it do for climate change?
The MP is an apex body consisting of nine members representing the Health Village Groups working on the ground. They come through a democratic process, where all the health village groups vote and choose the leaders to work at the upper level including sub-district and district. “See, we, the women have hardly any scope to share our thoughts, our choices and preferences; neither at home nor outside,” said Sufia. “We are happy that we have got a platform now where we can talk freely and exchange our pleasure and sorrows. But, that’s not the end. We meet here with a commitment to work for ourselves, for the climate-vulnerable community,” she added.
Sathi Rani, the Deputy Speaker of the MP joined the movement as she understands that the different needs of women and adolescent girls must be raised. “Climate change and disasters affect women and men disproportionately. And, usually we, the women are the most affected while all the plans and decisions are made by the male. Do they understand our problem, probably not. And, how will it be understood if we don’t speak out,” said Sathi Rani.
Rani emphasises that the “most affected” people should have the “most space” in the decision-making process which is practised by the MP. The MP advocates and solves issues raised by the water users at the community level. They work closely with the community group to identify communities’ needs and concerns and bring them to the agenda of the MP. Then they play a key role to advocate with respective government line departments and local governments to solve the water problem.
This is the beauty of the Mother’s Parliament which goes with the first principle of Locally Led Adaptation ‘Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level’. How do they apply it?
“Look at us three, we come from different community groups, the diversity is here,” said Gita Hazra, the Deputy Speaker of the MP in Morrelganj, pointing out that the President and the Vice-Presidents of the group are from different religions. “We consult the community; we listen to people especially from the excluded group and the most vulnerable. Even among us, no one holds more power than others, we decide on consensus. We take decisions ourselves rather than nodding with the decisions made or facilitated by other externals. This is important because we the affected people here are taking our decisions every day to adapt to the climate change at the local level,” said Hazra.
The MPs successfully advocated for affordable WASH technology that deals with increased salinity and flooding in their communities due to climate change, such as Pond Sand Filter systems. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the MPs achieved an increased budget allocation of 125%, to a total of $64,422/UP for water, sanitation and hygiene at the Union Parishad level. In Morrelganj, they managed to find additional sources of funding and the investment increased by 212% in 2019-20. Approximately 12,500 people have better access to potable water at both household and community level because of this initiative. “The way the MPs facilitated the whole process for PSF in Samaddarkhali is praiseworthy. They submitted the petition, they followed it up regularly, they raised the issue in a public hearing and during the meeting at upazila level. This is great that they were able to convince the department to consider it as a priority and it happened finally. Now when you see around thousands of people are having access to safe water in this climate crisis,” said Md Monirul Islam, the Sub-Assistant Engineer of Department of Public Health Engineering, Morrelganj, Bagerhat.
This is how the MPs are working in Koyra, Paikgacha and Morrelganj sub-districts in Khulna and Bagerhat. Though all the three MPs are working well now, their journey was not that easy, especially at the initial stage when they started in 2017. At first, it was challenging to convince stakeholders including Union Parishad and government line departments, to consider their initiative as a priority. When the MPs engaged locally elected Union Parishad members to verify the prioritized needs, using their newly developed advocacy skills, the scenario improved gradually.
By raising real issues with concrete evidence to the local government institutions and mobilizing influential leaders, the MPs started to be heard. Secondly, they struggled for their acceptance by the government agencies. To ensure acceptance and recognition, they mobilised support from NGOs and other local leaders. They ensured the presence of powerholders and decision-makers, including local administration and government line departments, as a guest in each of the meetings or sessions run by the MPs later. This helped in developing relationships with wider stakeholders and they supported the MPs as change agents. “There was a time when few of them would raise their brows and they would say why we women were there in the meeting and visiting the senior government officials. But now they respect us, even the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer (Sub-district Administrative Officer) asks us to sit beside them in the meeting,” said Sufia Khatun.
“Why are we working? We work because the need is there. The need is everywhere in these coastal areas. So, all sub-districts should have such groups who will raise voice for the women, take space in decision making. Nonetheless, the climate-vulnerable community will not be able to advance. And, we are the evidence that we can,” said Sufia.
So, the principles of LLA should be initiated with the belief that the community can take actions. The local people have the capacity and strength to lead the decision-making process. The government and the non-government sector must go with the mindset of ‘empowerment’- which means everyone has power to some extent to make a difference in the world. Every person at the local level irrespective of gender, class, economic status or educational background deserves to feel empowered inside.
Additionally, it is most important to come with the knowledge and practices rooted in the culture. And especially for climate change, the climate-vulnerable people themselves are the pioneers in adapting at their best through their daily life actions and reactions, as demonstrated by MPs. And, this is probably one of the key order conditions to build a Bangladesh resilient to climate change and other environmental challenges as Vision 2041 depicts.
Ashish Barua is working with Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as Programme Manager, Climate Change and DRR, his research interest lies in Empowerment, Justice and Social Equities. Can be reached at [email protected]
Mohammad Zobair Hasan is working in the Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP) as a Director (Research, Planning and Monitoring), his research interest lies in the field of water, sanitation and public health and its associated policy and strategy. Can be reached at [email protected]