Bangladeshi NGOs Prepare Smaller Cities for People Uprooted by Climate Change

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladeshi NGOs Prepare Smaller Cities for People Uprooted by Climate Change The Mohakhali slum in Dhaka is one of more than 6,000 slum areas in Bangladesh’s capital city, June 7, 2021.

NGOs in Bangladesh for the first time have undertaken measures to attract the half a million people displaced every year by climate change to smaller cities instead of the capital Dhaka.

With assistance from abroad, BRAC, Bangladesh’s largest NGO, set up the Climate Bridge Fund to help improve slum conditions in five smaller cities and towns so that displaced people don’t have to move to the overcrowded capital, said Md. Golam Rabbani, head of the fund’s secretariat.

“With the financial assistance of the German Development Bank, we in November 2019 launched the Climate Bridge Fund to improve the conditions of the slums in Khulna and Rajshahi cities so that the climate victims of nearby regions do not end up in slums in Dhaka,” Rabbani told BenarNews.

This year, the project was expanded to three more cities – Barishal, Satkhira and Sirajganj – he said.

“With this fund, we have been working to improve the infrastructures at the slums so that people can get better water, sanitation and hygiene services. We will also train them to create livelihood opportunities in these cities,” Rabbani said.

The International Center for Climate Change and Development, a Dhaka-based NGO, has been providing research and technical services to BRAC and other local organizations associated with the project.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is the country most vulnerable to climate change, said Mizan R. Khan, the center’s deputy director.

“Every year, half a million people displaced by the consequences of climate change and other disasters take refuge in different slums in Dhaka,” he told BenarNews.

“By 2050, the number of people displaced by climate change may stand at 13.2 million as sea level rises would inundate 18 percent of coastal land in Bangladesh. The refugees would surely end up in the slums.”

A 2014 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified Bangladesh as being at risk from climate change because of its exposure to sea-level rise, extreme weather events and concentrated poverty.

Bangladesh’s population at risk of sea level rise is predicted to grow to 27 million by 2050, the report also said.

‘Dhaka cannot absorb migrants’

Meanwhile, the number of slum dwellers is rising in the country.

In 2014, Dhaka had 6,489 slums, Chittagong had 3,305 and Khulna had 1,684. More than 2.22 million people in the country lived in the slums in 2014 compared with nearly 1.4 million in the 1997 census.

These numbers have increased since 2014, Khan said.

“Until 2019, some 4 million people gradually ended up in the slums in Dhaka and elsewhere,” he said.

“Dhaka can no longer absorb any more migrants.”

Mirza Shawkat Ali, chief of the climate-change office at the Department of Environment, said the government had yet to plan for the relocation of people displaced by climate change and natural disasters.

“Climate change would displace a huge number of people in Bangladesh and we have to give them shelter,” Ali told BenarNews.

“So the BRAC initiative of absorbing the climate refugees in other cities is commendable one, we will certainly consider working with the NGOs in this regard.”

Climate migrants prefer to live near the regions they grew up in, Khan said.

“The desire of the [climate] refugees is to live in cities closer to their place of birth so livelihood opportunities and better services and education would encourage the climate victims of greater Khulna region to live in Khulna or Satkhira,” he said.

“Similarly, if we can provide livelihood opportunities and better services at slums in Rajshahi, the people affected by drought will not head to Dhaka. They will live in Rajshahi.”

Aktarul Sana, 35, moved to Khulna city from her nearby coastal village home in Dakshin Bedkashi following Cyclone Sidr in November 2007.

“Our village is not livable anymore. Saline water intruded there and we had no work, so we have moved to Khulna city,” she told BenarNews. 

“Here my husband works as a mason, we can live well now. Improved services at slums would help poor people.”


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