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Parts of the world are feeling the effects of climate change dramatically more than others. One such country is Bangladesh. However, despite climate disasters ripping houses, livelihoods, and lives apart, communities in certain regions of the country are joining together, piecing back their lives and actively adapting to what is sadly now, the new normal.
Ranking first in the world for vulnerability to tropical cyclones, Bangladesh suffers climate disasters regularly, making living a healthy and happy life particularly difficult. Floods destroy farms; salt water tampers with seeds; and livestock is lost to rising water levels. Yet despite this, the resilience and determination of communities living in some of the world’s most difficult contexts to rebuild and adapt to the changing climate and context remains steadfast.
Meet the community self-help group
Through the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (a project aiming to build communities’ resilience to floods) and with the support of Concern and its local partners, a number of community self-help groups have been established in specific districts of Bangladesh especially prone to climate change. These groups are self-governed with Concern and partners supporting to help with running awareness sessions and to facilitate discussions.
Malika Begum is a member of a community resilience advocacy group in Rangpur, Bangladesh – a northern province badly affected by regular floods. Flood preparation is very important to Malika as devastatingly she lost her 16-month-old grandson in a flood a few years ago.
The self-help group was established in 2019 and has a committee made up of 17 local members representing 1700 households. The group meets once a month and its ultimate goal is to reduce the loss and damage of flooding (which happens 4-6 months of the year). There are various agenda items for each meeting, ranging from how best to prepare for floods to what climate-smart agriculture techniques are best to use. From this group, the committee can prepare for floods and disseminate information to other community members. Useful information includes:
When to bring livestock indoors
How to use local technology to stop erosion
And how to make bamboo bridges to bring people to safer places
As a result while flooding in the area is becoming more severe, the community are now more prepared.
Since the programme, we prepare for the floods immediately after getting the early warning. We have dry food and stock foods and prepare the small stoves. We have raised our beds and keep all our things raised, including the livestock.
Through the group, committee members have also learned how to engage with local government, and since then, services have hugely improved for them. Concern also established a community-based early warning system. The group has also worked together to build a road on which they can travel if there is a flood. Previously there was no way to move about and people were trapped; now they can travel to safety. They also come together to help the elderly and people living with a disability get to a safe place.
Another member of the group, Musannat Ambia, tells us what it was like before the group when floods arrived in the area: “When the floods hit, it was unbearable. Just imagine that everything is flooded – houses and animals are under water and you are sitting in a watery place. You have pregnant people, elderly people and children. There is no food; you cannot cook. And there is nowhere to go. You are stagnated with family members and you just have to wait and hope for when the flood will recede.”
Now, thankfully, things are different.
People are coming and visiting the road. If there is even flood, we can use the road and we can travel. It's much safer than before.
Next on the agenda for the committee is to raise the ground to build houses in a safer place using their own funding.
Meet the community alert group
Ashraf (pictured) is the president of the committee alert group, which is part of the community resilience advocacy group. He tells us: “You can’t prevent floods, floods come and go. But you can reduce the damage from them on our lives.”
The group signal people to bring livestock in when a cyclone or other climate hazard comes. Once the group hear that a cyclone is coming, committee members go out with loudspeakers and life jackets to alert people of the danger on its way. This equipment was given to them by Concern through the Zurich programme.
Ashraf explains how the group has improved things in the area: “There has been a lot of improvement. Before, we had no connection to government and no one gave importance to us or counted us. It has built our capacity to engage with government, including the health and livestock departments. Now, when floods come and we need support, we can get it. We are now united.”
Paving the way for a safer future
In another area of Rangpur district, a community group have worked on reconstructing its embankment to improve flood resilience.
In 2014, the previous embankment was destroyed. The community tried to re-build it but it kept breaking. Then, in 2019, with support from Concern and the Zurich project, the re-building began again. It took one month to build, and every member of the community supported in some way.
Some participated in the work, some provided bags, and others provided food. They were so happy to take part and with the construction.
The newly constructed embankment has been standing strong since 2020. By improving one embankment, 100,000 people are now safer.
We are so happy now, it cannot be described. Before when floods came, everything was destroyed. Now the embankment has been finished, people are happily harvesting their crops and their land. There is a big difference. We feel so proud of it.
This construction uses what is known as nature-based solutions, something that the community has adopted throughout a lot of their flood resilience preparation. The group also uses palm trees to protect the community from lightening, specific formations of plants to protect against incoming water and specific plants with deeper and stronger roots to withstand flooding.
Read more about climate smart agriculture
Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance
Concern implements the Flood Resilience Programme with the funding of Zurich Foundation through local development partner Assistance for Social Organisation and Development. Its vision is that floods have no negative impact of people and businesses ability to thrive, and its goal is to increase social, political and financial investment in community-based flood resilience building through partnerships.
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