In the chars of Bangladesh, residents impacted by the changing climate have formed local disaster management committees to focus on capacity building, enhancing their earnings, and developing more sustainable sources of income.

The lives of residents of chars, floodplain sediment islands in the Ganges Delta, have always been irrevocably linked with the rising and falling waters around them. Yet while floods are a natural feature of life due to the geographical and climatic conditions in the estuary waters, climate change has led to more intense and unpredictable storms, cyclones, floods, and erosion.

Severe flooding or erosion of the chars has a huge socio-economic impact and brings with it significant hardships. Loss of livelihoods and income causes food insecurity and malnutrition. Many residents are forced to borrow at high interest rates, pushing them further into poverty and reducing their ability to access health and education services. Furthermore, residents suffer from a range of psychological stress problems, from anxiety and depression, to insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2019, to help char residents adapt to extreme weather and prevent long-term impacts of climate disasters, non-governmental organization Friendship launched a five-year, multi-faceted project, with assistance from the Luxembourg Ministry of Cooperation, called the Transition Fund. This was designed to provide small grants, technical assistance to improve livelihoods, and support to access, and advocate for, government services. Sixty communities with more than 1,800 families were supported in 2020 and 2021, spread across five districts. In each community, the families most vulnerable to climate disasters were identified through consultation with residents.

A series of Friendship Disaster Management Committees (FDMCs) were then formed, made up of representatives from 30 of the most vulnerable families, at least 60% of which were female. Based on an assessment of needs, assets, skills, and potential for resilient livelihood options, small grants were provided to help kickstart new livelihoods. 

The project’s focus then shifted to capacity building and technical support to enhance earnings, and to encourage micro-savings after families started earning. Due to a lack of banking facilities, funds were deposited into the project account, with a record of the savings being maintained on a Family Income and Expenditure (FIE) card kept by the beneficiaries. 

In line with the project’s long-term ambitions, training represents a very important element of the activities. Households received training in climate-smart agriculture, focusing on the use of flood- and saline-tolerant crops. Summer and winter vegetable seeds were also provided, and green technology introduced in the form of drip irrigation, sack gardening, organic fertilizer, and pheromone traps. Residents were taught how to maximize crop production, expand their businesses, and save for times of crisis. Furthermore, groups within the FDMCs met to share their knowledge and learn about topics of common interest, such as integrated pest management.

Photo Credit: FRIENDSHIP

In addition to agriculture, all 1,800 families received livestock, and training on livestock rearing. The type of livestock they received depended on each family’s individual situation, for instance their proximity to water and homestead spaces. More than 900 families received Muzaffarnagari sheep, a breed perfectly adapted to the chars as it is able to graze even on aquatic weeds and submerged grasses. More than 300 families received Black Bengal Goats, which produce high-quality meat and leather. And in coastal districts, Khaki Campbell ducks were distributed to over 500 families, who also received training on poultry rearing.

Photo Credit: FRIENDSHIP

Several other resilience strategies were supported by the Transitional Fund. By engaging in a participatory poverty mapping process, it has been possible to map out barriers to access markets, such as broken roads and bridges. This helps local people evidence and strengthen their case when petitioning government and stakeholders for assistance. 

Youth from the community were also involved, receiving training to become community medic aides, solar technicians, flood volunteers, and community governance aides (CGAs). The CGAs supported families in need of assistance for everything from livestock rearing to legal matters, such as helping to register births and acquiring National Identity (NID) cards, thereby making it easier for local people to access healthcare and other government services.

Photo Credit: FRIENDSHIP

The fund has had a tangible impact on people’s lives. FDMC members adopted climate-smart agricultural practices, modern farming technologies, and hybrid seed varieties, and were able to access benefits such as government support.

In an impact survey, around 70% of farmers were found to have increased their knowledge on integrated crop techniques and how to use tools and technology better. Furthermore, nearly 80% became adept at using the crop calendar, while nearly 85% gained knowledge of saline or food tolerance crops. Total average income per family increased by over 60%, with many families building their own shops for fresh produce and today earning around €4 per day. 

Photo Credit: FRIENDSHIP

Through the Transitional Fund, Asma Begum, who lives in the small village of Kanthalpara, received 12 ducks and training to start a livelihoods project. After three months, she had saved enough money (€101) to buy 300 ducks and her business began to grow.

“I get more than 200 eggs every day,” explains Asma. “Every three months, I sell ducks for €3.5 to €4 each. I earn €627 every month and spend €404, making a profit of over €200.” In addition to their duck rearing, Asma and her family have also benefited financially by cultivating vegetables for food and sale at the local market. "My previously landless husband has gone through a difficult time in his family. But now, we are very well," she adds. 

The FDMCs were able to accumulate savings to be used as initial capital for other investments. These savings provide people with a financial buffer to deal with uncertainties and increase their peace of mind. The impact of the support can also be seen in a number of other ways beyond finance. All 1,800 households across the 60 communities became more aware of their rights and obligations, with an additional 6,387 beneficiaries gaining access to government safety net programs and/or grants. Friendship Civil Society Groups (FCSGs) were also formed to address social issues, helping to build an understanding of various social issues and enhance community cohesion.

Photo Credit: FRIENDSHIP