This case study was elaborated in the frame of the project ´Pro-poor Resource Governance under Changing Climates‘, a joint research initiative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). The project analysed pro-poor resource governance under the conditions of climate change and it aimed to identify resource management institutions that reduce livelihood vulnerability. It was carried out in collaboration with local civil society organisations that are working towards a sustainable and pro-poor resource management. Case studies were elaborated in six different countries across Latin America, West Africa and South Asia. In Bangladesh, the research was conducted in collaboration with BRAC, a non-governmental development organisation.
Most Bangladeshis still earn their livelihood from agriculture and Bangladesh is not only subject to frequent natural hazards, but is also considered to be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. This creates a difficult situation for those who depend on natural resources for their livelihood. The case study examines the case of Bangladesh´s coastal Char region. The entire country is a deltaic land that is located within the flood plains of three great rivers: the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. In the major rivers and coastal areas, ‘Char lands’ result from the accretion of silt through the continual process of erosion and deposition. Rapid erosion of farmland on the shores of rivers and estuaries makes many people landless, who then migrate to the newly emerged chars to rebuild their livelihoods. The chars are a pocket of extreme poverty and they normally present: (i) unfavourable conditions for agriculture due to salinity and flooding; (ii) extreme vulnerability to cyclones and storms as well as harsh living conditions due to a lack of fresh water and fuel, and (iii) very poor communication and minimal services from the government and from NGOs. Furthermore, the settlers are often forced to occupy land only with the consent of powerful local people, who illegally control this public land by force. In these cases, settlers found themselves in a typical situation of insecurity regarding the tenure of their land.
In some parts of the study area, the Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP), that has been implemented by the Government of Bangladesh with support of the Government of the Netherlands and IFAD works towards the development of infrastructure and the improvement of livelihoods. This case study examines the multiple vulnerabilities the char communities face, to what extent these are exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and how an improved access as well as security of tenure to natural resources and other services can reduce livelihood vulnerability.
The study is based on the data collected from seven chars, namely quantitative data on climate and households as well as qualitative data on livelihoods, perception of climate change and coping strategies after environmental hazards. Data on household characteristics and livelihood patterns reveal that household assets are very limited in the whole region. Access to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities are limited in the area without project-intervention and are widely available in CDSP areas.
In the whole region, the highest household expenses are due to recent natural hazards.
Agriculture is severely hampered due to the combined effects of soil and water salinity, cyclones and tidal surges, incidence of pests and diseases, poor marketing infrastructure, poor health, unsafe drinking water, scarcity of improved irrigation, variability of rainfall, risks of drought, on-set of political instability, etc. Men and women´s perception of climate change includes changes in temperature, rainfall, and the frequency as well as intensity of storms that are in line with the meteorological data.
However, most of them have not heard about “climate change” or do not know what is meant by the term.
The newly emerged char lands have been found to be highly contested: in nonintervention areas or before the start of CDSP intervention in a given region, local landlords take control of the land and establish an illegal rule. The landlords, having links to politicians, operate with private armies and sell the land to settlers who have lost their land due to river erosion and who have migrated to this land. They use violence and exploit the settlers in many ways. There have also been cases where government officials have illegally acquired land.
The CDSP is an integrated development project that, along with other components such as protection from climate change and the creation of climate-resilient infrastructure and livelihood support, guarantees equal access to land and the provision of land titles. The study documents the livelihood patterns in the Char region and the impact of environmental hazards as well as climate change. It shows how these environmental vulnerabilities are interrelated with social vulnerabilities. It demonstrates how access to land is a major pillar for the reduction of livelihood vulnerabilities.