IFAD and the Netherlands take on climate change in Bangladesh

With Copenhagen in mind, I am writing this post from a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, in the middle of the major cyclone corridor off southern Bangladesh. This is the extreme frontline in the battle Bangladesh faces against climate change. Islands (called "chars" in Bengali) such as these could be the first casualties from sea level rise. Some of these chars are already largely submerged at high tide. Others, as shown in this photo, are barely above sea level.

Who on earth would choose to live in a place like this? And yet, unbelievably, thousands of the poorest Bangladeshi's live on these coastal chars. Most have nowhere else to live. Many of their ramshackle homes get flooded on a daily basis. The number one cause of death of children in these areas is drowning. There is no government presence, no health care, no schools. The land is saline, so crops barely survive. People have no legal title to the land, and are prone to robbery and extortion by powerful gangs that control these areas. Women are particularly vulnerable and rape is common. Its really got to be the most challenging place I have worked in my 13 years at IFAD.

This desperate area is the location of IFAD's newest project in Bangladesh, a project that will be jointly funded by IFAD and the Netherlands. It will be the biggest ever IFAD initiated project in Bangladesh and has been a massive challenge to design. The Netherlands contributed USD 380,000 to the design process while IFAD contributed USD 100,000. This large design budget enabled complex engineering feasibility studies to be funded, as well as the usual formulation and appraisal missions. IFAD was given the responsibility to lead the entire design process and to identify and manage the design consultants.

So what is going to be funded? Firstly, large areas of land will be protected from sea level rise and flooding by high embankments. Cyclone shelters will be built to protect the local populations from extreme storm surges. The land will be surveyed and each landless settler household will be given secure land title to a 1.5 acre plot of land. Finally, to enable agriculture, salt will be removed from the soil by flushing, and adaptive research on salt tolerant varieties will be funded.
Tomorrow i'm off back to Dhaka to write the aide memoire for the wrap-up meeting next week. Then back to Rome on the 18th.
Nigel Brett, CPM Bangladesh.