"We are not taking into account that we are all passengers on the same lifeboat. The climate ark. The climate ark is a very insignificant place compared to the whole universe. " Dr. Hassan Mahmood, Minister of Environment & Forests, Bangladesh, addressing the 5th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change. Dhaka, Bangladesh. March 28, 2011.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Mahmood last December at the UNFCCC talks in Cancun at what was without doubt, for me,  the most emotionally raw and powerful presentation of the entire two week COP-appaloosa 16.

Talk about shock and awe.

In no uncertain terms, officials and scientists representing Bangladesh at the Cancun talks made it clear yesterday that their country, which unabashedly occupies Ground Zero in the climate wars, is fearless and righteously proud in its determination to save itself by ensuring it receives an equitable share of fast track financing to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change.

"Loans are not an option for my country," said Bangladesh Minister of State for the Environment Dr. Hasan Mahmud. "We did nothing to create this problem and we should not be charged in solving it."

Unless something is done now, chances are in less than 40 years you will look at the map and Bangladesh will no longer be there. What will remain of this country will not be recognizable. bangladesh & COP16: "real people don't live underwater"

This morning,  Dr. Mahmood remained on message.

"Today the global community, not the scientific community but the political leadership around the globe, according to my personal understanding, still has not realized the magnitude, the devastation of the impacts of climate change," he said.  "We are still struggling in the global conferences to come to a concensus, a solution of how we can tackle the negative impacts of climate change."

"The government of Bangladesh, with the help of non government organizations, with the help of civil society, with the help of the people, has shown the capacity to deal with the nature of calamities and negative impacts resulting from climate change."

Yet, what remains true, he says, is that the people of Bangladesh and other LDCs, the people who have NOT contributed to the problem, remain the most vulnerable to the impacts of the industrialized world, which contributes annually per capita  15-20 tons of GHGs as opposed to 1.6 tons from least developed countries. (see International Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Carbon Intensity)  

The Women of Bangladesh at COP16. Anwar Begum, Caritas Fisheries Program (center) spoke in a CBA plenary this afternoon. This year's theme “Scaling Up: Beyond Pilots” will be addressed in interactive plenary discussions throughout the week on such issues as the tools of CBA, adaptive capacity, gender and water governance and climate change adaptation.

Bangladesh adaption projects to date
• 400 km of flood protection embankments
• irrigation facilities cover about 2/3 of country
• early warning systems for floods and cyclones
• A separate minister on disaster management and food
• A comprehensive plan for disaster risk reduction
• 3200 cyclone shelters
• 42,000 cyclone preparedness volunteers
• massive plan for dredging
• Investment of close to $200 million in adaptation projects

Afloat: Bangladesh adapts to climate change


Climate Adaptation is traditionally defined as "the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences." The IPCC recognizes various methods of adaptation, including "anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation.” Link

Community-based adaptation (CBA) sidesteps the 'middle man' by working on the ground with local communities to tap into their existing capacities, cultural trends and practices. Scientific information is translated into local languages and knowledge is also transferred using videos, art and theater.  Adaptation projects, suported through microfinance and increasingly by small amounts from The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, differ from standard development projects because of the primary role 'inputs' from and active engagement of the community in the design, implementation, and maintenance of the solution.


Reality check: climate change and the poor

The annual CBA conferences hosts field trips for participants to experience first hand how the world’s most vulnerable populations are strategizing and acting (with the help of local NGOs)  to adapt at the community level.

IIED's Hannah Reid, reporting on her first trip to Bangladesh’s Manikganj District, some three hours from Dhaka , describes the experience as a “strong reality check on climate change and the poor.”  The area, situated near the Padma River, is coping with higher floodwaters, longer floods and erosion which devastates both crop and homestead lands.

Many families are moving their homesteads and fodder stores onto raised platforms to keep out of the rising floodwater. They have built small hills with corals and feed stations on top to keep their cattle dry. Similarly, they use chicken houses and portable ovens that can be picked up and moved to dry land during floods.

The ovens even work on the small banana tree rafts that the poorest have built and use during the three or so weeks when the floods force them out of their homes. Families pile goats and all their worldly possessions onto these rafts, and even sleep on them, until the water recedes. Other families have protected their possessions by piling firewood on their roof, or building platforms in their ceilings.

The community is also adapting their use of natural resources. They have built a raised well to stop the floods from polluting fresh groundwater, and we met the woman who manages it and ensures this water is distributed fairly in times of need. New drought- and flood-resistant crops have been planted in the floodplain, and the community also have a resources centre with posters on the walls and a meeting space to encourage learning about sound management of fisheries, forests and agricultural land.

Women working with mangrove seedlings in Char Kukri Mukri

In another report from the field, Discovering mangroves and people in Bangladesh, a convention participant visited the Bangladesh island of Char Kukri Mukri:

Another way in which the community is adapting to change is by stabilising the land and increase sedimentation. Again supported by the UNDP and national government, the community has established a nursery for mangrove seedlings of a pioneer species. The nursery project employs women and so is also creating much-needed jobs.
Another adaptation shown to us was presented as the ‘FFF approach’. It combines Forest, Fish and Fruit farming using a newly-developed mound-ditch system that aims to stabilise the soil on the mangrove islands while also increasing incomes for members of the local community.


Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

Scientist Pablo Suarez, from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre,  wrapped up the first day of today's CBA conference by engaging all the participants in a game. By the end of the day, after listening to all the serious reports, Suarez said, no one would have been able to say awake to listen to such a boring scientist as himself. And so it was the perfect time, he said, to roll out a game he created with the Parsons School of Design, which focuses on solving the problems associated with climate change adaptation.

Games, he said, are a fantastic mechanism to make people "own" the knowledge that decisions have consequences, to bring home to individuals the complexity of trade offs between now and later, between me and us … "all these things so fundamental to understanding and dealing with climate change. 'If I prepare for a drought what are the consequences?' We have to make some sacrifices to adapt but in the long term we will be better off."

Part of the Red Cross/Red Crescent's mission in explaining that the impacts of climate change are getting worse is to assist communities around the world in designing adaptions specifically tailored to address their unique geographic, economic, cultural and climate parameters.

In 2007, the highest decision making body of Red Cross/Red Crescent delivered a declaration (they only issue 1 declaration every 4 years) recognizing the humanitarian consequences of climate change are a major problem.

"Since that day, everyone in the Red Cross/Red Crescent family has a mandate to address climate change ... Our challenge is to help people of good heart and good brains but who are very busy, their muscles are constantly moving around -- we need to help them. "

"Climate change was presented to the public by the media, by the experts, as mostly a scientific problem, a  mostly a long term problem and as mostly  diplomacy problem – the Kyoto Protocol and things like this," Suarez said. "But it is also a humanitarian problem."


Eco-Engage Now

• Follow the CBA Conference on theIIED's website and at One Climate TV, which is live casting throughout the week and archiving videos.
• Twitter: One World TV #cba5
• Check out the interactive RC/RC Climate Centre WorldMapof countries where they are actively engaged in assisting with CBA projects.
• Download and read IIED's PLA 60: Community-based adaptation to climate change
‘Writeshops’ help scientists disseminate their work
Community Based Adaptation Exchange  is a shared online resource designed to bring together and grow the CBA community. It provides a site for the exchange of up-to-date information about community-based adaptation, including news, events, case-studies, tools, policy resources, and videos.
• Read Bangladesh National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which was the first NAPA to be filed with the UNFCCC and serves as the model for other developing countries official programmes of action.

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