Md. Arif Dewan

2020-02-25 22:59:38 BdST

Community participation ensures sustainable coastal embankment

Bangladesh is widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable countries to global climate change. According to Germanwatch Global Climate Risk index-2020, Bangladesh has been ranked as the seventh most climate-vulnerable country in the world. Due to its distinctive geographical features, Bangladesh suffers from regular hazards, including floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges, riverbank erosion and droughts, sea-level rise, landslides, etc.

In addition to suffering from the effects of tidal floods and surges, the people in the coastal areas are vulnerable to the intrusion of saline water, shortage of freshwater in the dry season and the impact of extreme events such as cyclones. In the south-western coastal zone, river siltation hinders drainage and causes prolonged water logging in the polder after monsoon rains, which can persist for extended periods of up to six months.

This in turn results in loss of crops and income, reduced food security and explains in part the higher than average poverty levels in the coastal belt. These hazards, when mixed with vulnerable and exposed social conditions, lead to loss of life, damage to infrastructure and adversely impact the livelihoods of the people and often displace individuals and communities from their habitual residence.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that more than 4.7 million people were displaced due to disasters in Bangladesh between 2008 and 2014. The Government of Bangladesh has acknowledged that by 2050, one in every 7 people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change.

The coast-line of Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone areas of the world. The land is relatively fragile to the coastal erosion as it is formed on silt. Kutubdia is a small island in the mouth of the Bay of Bengal and has been overpopulated for its fertile land since it has emerged. It is a matter of sorrow that it is one of many islands of Bangladesh affected by increasingly rapid erosion and some of the fastest recorded sea-level rises in the world. This "vanishing island" has been shrinking dramatically.

Cyclone Marian in 1991 took 140,000 lives and is the most devastating cyclone in the last 3 decades. Due to this devastating cyclone, more than 20,000 people died on Kutubdia where 80–90% of homes were destroyed, and all livestock were killed. More than 7000 families have permanently migrated from Kutubdia, Cox’s Bazar.

To protect the islanders' government of Bangladesh built an embankment around the island. But since it is made of soilit really doesn’t sustain for a long time against the rough erosion. Salinity intrusion on a regular basis permanently damages the fertility of the land. It also destroys the source of freshwater as the ponds are flooded. And this situation forces people to migrate.

In Kutubdia, lands and villages are frequently inundated with tidal water due to damage. At the same the height of the embankment is not expected level. As a result, last August 2019, Baraghope union’s Moralia part embankment of Kubdia Island was severely broken and lands were submerged. As the process of getting fund it too complicated and lengthy for the repair and maintenance of the embankment, local people repaired the embankment in a participatory way with voluntary efforts. Mass people and youth from this area working voluntarily, repaired and construct half a km damaged embankment immediately only 5.5 lakh taka. As a result, further glitches could be reduced and created community ownership.

“If we were waiting for the response from the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), many more areas would be submerged and the length of the broken embankment would be increased. Due to the bureaucratic complexity of fund allocation from BWDB, it is not possible to take timely action to protect the embankment. So, the embankment management should be given in the hand local government and BWDB activities should be decentralized.” said Advocate Faridul Islam Chowdhury, Chairman, Upazila Parishad, Kutubdia.

The scenario is almost the same in the case of other vulnerable parts of the country especially the small islands. Around 5 million people those who are living in the coastal area are the most vulnerable and at-risk due to the adverse impact of climate change. As a result, socio-economic damages and losses are also extremely visible.

The Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) is the lead agency, responsible inter alia for protecting the communities from flooding and surges by ensuring the integrity of the embankments and associated structures, and for forming and registering water management organizations (WMOs). Many aspects of this institution and its activities should be decentralized. Besides, participatory embankment management in the coastal areas is now the demand of the time.

The total length of the embankment in Bangladesh is 16,261 km where the length of the coastal embankment is 5,757 km according to Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB). Most of the embankments and polders of the coastal areas were constructed during the 60’s decades of the last century. Over the past six decades, the effectiveness of most embankments has been reduced in dealing with the growing natural disaster associated with climate change. In many places, the embankments were broken down and disappeared in the river.

With the passage time, the existing embankment cannot protect the coastal people effectively. The institutional capacity of BWDB is also a concerning issue now. The activities of this board are hardly aligned with the existing demand addressing climate change. Transparency and accountability are not shown properly. There is hardly people’s participation in WDBS’s activities and initiatives.

The financing issues need to be addressed very sincerely. Currently, embankment construction and maintenance are basically donor-dependent. That’s why it not possible to take timely action. The budget is not adequate in respect of demand despite inclusion in climate finance strategy. This fiscal year 2020-2021 the budget is for water development board is only BDT.  2371 core that which is very insufficient.

Wider community participation is needed from planning and implementation process to build sustainable coastal embankment and ensure effective maintenance. There should not rhetoric and political bias community engagement somehow being happened currently. After completing the construction, maintenance of the embankment should be handed over to the local government and community. The communities in the embankments are organized into Water Management Groups (WMGs) at the village level and Water Management Associations (WMAs) at the embankment level, with an aim to create effective cooperatives that are in a position to formulate community priorities and effective embankment management.

Besides this, budget should be allocated to the district, Upazila and even more union level so that the local authority will be capable of instant, timely decision making and implementation. At the same time budget should be increased considering the demand and given from govt. own fund.

Lastly Govt. should set priority for construction based on risk and vulnerability as well as main-streaming the climate-resilient coastal embankment in national, sectorial and spatial development programs along with strengthening institutional capacity.

Writer is a Climate Activist & Development Worker

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