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A city at risk

  • Published at 05:58 pm August 23rd, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:21 pm August 23rd, 2017
A city at risk
August 2017 witnessed Bangladesh turn its Environment and Forests Ministry to the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, visibly pledging to emphasise climate action. While the move brought upon unprecedented applause for the administration from various climate scientists, donor entities, and environment activists at home and abroad, it also raised a few concerns. In a nutshell, climate finance funds an array of preventive and adaptive measures like reforestation, renewable energy projects, building cyclone shelters and river dams, flood reliefs, etc. The Climate Finance Framework essentially accounts for and tracks all of these projects from when they get allocated into the budget till the end, reflecting national prioritisation and shaping up the Climate Finance Policy. Accumulated from domestic budget and international donors, this years’ budget resembled ones from previous years and appeared to hover around 5-7% of the country’s total expenditure. For Bangladesh, cash flows usually through three pathways: The domestic fund called Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund, which accounts for the greater share of overall climate expenditure, the government’s Annual Development Plan, and NGOs. However, there are significant concerns regarding how the government works around with its domestic funds. Starting from inept distribution structures to corruption, the spectrum of inefficiency is wide. The ongoing northern floods in Sirajganj, Nilphamari, Panchagarh, and the surrounding areas have started to pose the most crucial questions that require looking into. Funding the inefficient More than 200 villages in the northern part of Bangladesh were left marooned in the flood. Unexpected amount of monsoon rainfall in the region, coupled with upstream flow of water from West Bengal, has left Bangladesh crippled and with little to fend itself with. There were 39 reported deaths in the past week, with the heavy rainfall and rising levels of river bed threatening major floods even in the financial metropolitan of Dhaka. All these events eventually fall into a sequence of inadequate climate financing, inefficient follow-up to the work, and a less-ambitious outlook to fight climate change. One of the primary defenses to floods in the most vulnerable areas is to build impeccable embankment structures. Such public initiatives are usually given to contractors through competitive tenders within relevant ministries. In most cases, contracts change hands twice at a minimum. Take for instance the government work-order issued to solve water logging and revive Satkhira’s internally flowing canals: The order was issued to Niaz Traders back in 2013, but it changed hands three times before Satkhira’s labour leader Mr Israfil finally took ownership of the work order and finances. However, the project made no progress for a year until local community intervention, initiated by Transparency International, Bangladesh, took place and saw the whole process through.
One of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, a call for higher ambition in fighting climate change is turning out to be necessary
The example testifies to a weak monitoring and evaluation framework of government projects, eventually delaying and derailing any potential climate action response. Reports issued in the following years found that most work orders for constructing embankments change hands multiple times, while the delivered projects often go through minimal to non-existent evaluation. This results in weak support structures which lay exposed to rat burrows and snake holes. Multiple dams have been damaged in the past week and run over by strong currents of water because of unattended repair demands and the acute lack of government awareness towards flood protection in the north. Aid as finance  Throughout this past week, flood-affected northerners received only a few kilograms of flat rice as relief to sustain them until the next batch reaches them. Many of them are already dispersed and sheltered under self-made tents on highways, as proper shelters are either unavailable or inadequate for the constantly increasing number of victims. Bangladesh has made strides in climate adaptation by increasing land levels to cope with increasing sea levels, creating greater number of shelters, producing and highly subsidising saline-tolerant crops for agriculture, yet the impact of climate change is still widely felt with low intent of a fightback. Last year, Bangladesh refused 13 million pounds worth of Climate fund from UK Aid, claiming that World Bank mediation includes extraordinary clauses which make it difficult for the government to maneuver around expenditure. The amount was part of a 75 million pound pledge made to Bangladesh back in 2008 by Britain to provide climate finance through Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund, which has also closed down. In light of what is happening and what is foretold for Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, a call for higher ambition in fighting climate change is turning out to be necessary. Statistically, recent incidents should indicate a strategic increase in climate finance budget, ie moving away from the traditional 5-7% range of annual expenditure. However, all initiatives and potential reinforcements require a government-enforced strong monitoring and evaluation framework which ensures absolute transparency in handling and distributing the funds to relevant stake-holders. On that note, conclusions can also suggest additional budgetary allocation to be invested on mass public awareness. An ambitious drive to fight climate change will require Bangladesh to get rid of structural and institutional corruption and ensure that authorities are held accountable for spending, savings, and policy decisions that affect millions. Greater public awareness through government and NGO campaigns should make a big difference here. With the Trump administration opting out of the Paris Agreement, it is even more incumbent upon all other countries to start taking responsibility for saving the planet -- some more than others, but everyone on their feet nonetheless. While energy generation keeps on getting more important to Bangladesh’s improving economy, finances for greater levels of adaptation, new methods of mitigating climate change effects, and removing historically ingrained corruption from public institutions are of paramount importance. Let us not lose lives to haste and greed. Asif Hassan is a Senior Content Strategist at MediaMuse.