My Films

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bangladesh Report back

Our World 2.0 recently published the videos I co-produced while in Bangladesh. Here they are the accompanying article:

Original article

Both inland and by the shore, today’s changing climate is impacting the daily lives of the people of Bangladesh. Out of necessity, Bangladeshis are beginning to adapt by implementing traditional knowledge and practices, through self innovation and with the help of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations.

Worldwide, to varying degrees, we are all in the process of learning how to adapt to environmental changes. The front-line experience of Bangladesh will provide useful insight into the many challenges that will affect more and more places in the future.

This week, in honour of Bangladesh National Day (March 26), we bring to you a series of three video briefs that showcase the resilient Bangladeshi spirit in coping with these potentially devastating changes. These stories also provide a glimpse of how the United Nations University is working with NGOs to create a platform of knowledge sharing for climate change adaptation.

At-risk Bangladesh

On our warming planet, Bangladesh is considered to be one of the 12 highest climate-risk countries in the world. It regularly faces all of the five main identified threats that arise from climate change: droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels, and greater uncertainty in agriculture. In particular, Bangladesh tops the list in flood disasters because it is situated in the low-lying Ganges–Brahmaputra River Delta that is formed by the confluence of three rivers and their respective tributaries, which include run-offs from the melting Himalayan glaciers.

Bangladesh — and many of the other countries on the high-risk list — are increasingly facing such hazards, despite the fact that their contribution to the world’s carbon emissions is minuscule, even in comparison to many developing nations.

On top of these climate impacts, Bangladesh is one of the most population dense countries in the world and ranks 147 out of 179 on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (PDF). The list assesses a country’s achievement in terms of human development in areas like health, education and gender equality, and not just GDP growth.

The effects of climate change are exacerbating Bangladesh’s existing problems — health, poverty, land erosion and natural disasters. At sea, the waters are getting rougher and the frequency of tropical cyclones is increasing. On land, the rain patterns are erratic, day and night temperatures fluctuate dramatically, and the country is plagued by both drought and flood.

While 80% of Bangladeshis live in rural areas and 54% work in agriculture, more and more farmers can no longer make ends meet and have begun to migrate to the bigger cities and other countries in search of a better life.

However, the Bangladeshis are not resigned to climate change doom, but instead have become active leaders in adaptation. In 2008, the national government published a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (PDF).

The country has already begun to prepare for the inevitable and irreplaceable effects of climate change. In some communities, education and awareness-raising has begun in schools. For those who live along the coast, homes are built to withstand 100 km typhoon winds and sit upon raised foundations to stave off rising waters during flooding. In addition, farmers are planting saline resistant crops that can withstand the salt water floods that plague their lands.

Ultimately, adaptation is not the longer-term solution for climate change. It has its limitations. A focus on reducing our green house gas emissions must be prioritized. In the mean time, as we’ll see in this video brief series, the people of Bangladesh are doing all they can to adapt.

Coping with rougher seas

In our first video brief, embedded at top of this page, fishermen in the Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta are suffering some of the consequences of global climate change. For hundreds of years their traditional boats have been strong enough to fish in the Bay of Bengal.

However, today, this is no longer true. Fishermen are increasingly faced with stronger storms and rougher seas. Every time they set out to the sea to fish, they gamble with their own lives.

We met with Mohammed Illias, who has fished the waters of Magna River since he was 12. To better support his family, he saved money to purchase his own boat. However, in 2008, he and 10 other fishermen were caught in a terrible storm. The boat was badly damaged and began to sink. Luckily, all of the fisherman on-board survived.

With the help of local and international NGOs, Mohammed was able to restore his boat. By reinforcing the foundation with steel bars, his boat was made stronger. He feels confident that his boat will now be able to withstand the rough waves. As an added result, the boat now allows him travel further out into the sea and increase his catch.

In this, the second of our special three-part series in honour of Bangladesh National Day, we track how Bangladeshis are struggling to tackle local problems, such as increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns.

The changing climate is making it difficult for peasants in Bangladesh to harvest enough food from their land. Based on traditional knowledge, Bangladeshis used to be able to accurately predict when the rains would fall. They could then sow seeds in accordance to these patterns in order to yield the crops upon which they relied for survival. But rains are no longer following such a predictable schedule and the people must do their best to adjust to this new climate reality.

United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace Researcher Chun Knee Tan has been working with the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to address the growing challenges the region faces and empower local people to deal with the changes in their environment.

In partnership the two organizations have created a project designed to involve the people affected into the machinations of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, such as the Convention of Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This Community-based Implementation and Compliance of Multilateral Environment Agreements project aims to better communicate to communities on the issues surrounding such agreements and get their input and help in implementing relevant national strategies and action plans.

Kohinor, the woman in this video brief, and her husband have suffered the consequences of the unpredictable climate. The number of fish, once abundant in their water beel (wetland or pond), has dropped significantly. Due to the extreme temperature fluctuations, friends and family are catching colds more frequently and there have also been outbreaks of pests that affect their fruit and vegetables.

Through the CICMEA project, IUCN organizes community workshops like the one for the women from Fullbaria village that is shown in the video. Kohinor participated in this workshop at which she and her fellow participants mapped out the landscape of their ward, noting the changes in the area over the past 20 years and listing the resources the community possesses that can help to deal with their challenges. Through this process the group was able to determine what support they will ultimately need to receive from the government and NGOs.

In the third and final video brief of this special series on climate change in Bangladesh, we find out how school children are beginning to learn about the changes they are experiencing in their environment.

Not only are they learning about what is already happening, they are also acquiring the knowledge and skills to deal with these changes.

As part of one educational project, 14-year-old Titu Illias, who attends Obaidulla Memorial High School in Noahkali, participated in an awareness-raising play. Entitled “Let’s Hear Rana Bhai” (or “Let’s Hear from Brother Frog” in English), the play teaches children and adults some of the ways they can cope in certain climate change related situations.

For example, the children are told that when a cyclone is approaching, they should listen for the cyclone warning signal and go to the cyclone shelter immediately; or, that farmers should plant saline resilient seeds so that their crops will survive even if flooding occurs.

Titu, known for his exceptional voice, is one of the lead performers in this play, which has been a huge success and has travelled to other school districts. Titu is now keenly aware of the consequences of climate change and that we all have responsibilities in addressing it.

“I hope that my message will be conveyed to children all over the world and people will come together to help each other and reduce the climate change,” he says.