Tag Archives: climate change

How to Handle Environmental Refugees?

It’s no big secret that Bangladesh is on the frontline of countries to experience mass migrations as a result of global warming and rising sea levels. This means higher tides in the Bay of Bengal. The result: trillions more liters of water sloshing over a country where three river deltas meet, depositing and taking away billions of tons more of its usual sediment. I’ve heard so many of my colleagues and friends say that each year it seems that the floods caused by monsoon worsens. This year is not an exception. My friends also say that weather patterns these past 20 years especially have regularly produced floods that should otherwise occur just once every 50 or 100 years.

The fear caused by such things has inspired an approach that has rapidly infiltrated into the NGO climate in Bangladesh, with many organizations adding “increasing disaster management and coping capacity” and “disaster risk reduction and planning” to their core goals.

Bengali char-dwellers will be one of the most affected group of people on Earth as the dangerous symptoms of climate change take hold. I have been thinking a lot about next steps – how can NGOs effectively address the char-dwellers’ landlessness in the face of diminishing and changing land? Where will these people go? Dhaka is growing exponentially, they say, because a lot of day laborers in the chars and affected rural lands come to search for jobs and  move their families to the city. Migration out of the country will likely increase as a result of deteriorating farming and environmental conditions all over Bangladesh. A compelling take by the IOM during a recent Climate Change and Migration Policy Dialogue:

“Environmental migration is often portrayed as a failure of adaptation and a worst case scenario. However, while migration can be a manifestation of acute vulnerability, it can also represent a logical and legitimate livelihood diversification and adaptation strategy that has been used for millennia and is likely to be of growing importance in the future. Migration can help reduce risk to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems, contribute to income diversification and enhance overall capacity of households and communities to cope with the adverse effects of environmental and climate change.”

With that in mind, the Indian government’s decision to build a USD $1.2 billion barrier across 2,500 miles of the India-Bangladeshi border (said to rival the Great Wall of China) is understood here to be a preventative measure, linked to the fear of an influx of Bengali environmental migrants. The Border Security Force (BSF), India’s version of Border Patrol, is currently assigned to patrol the barrier. Alarming, since reports in 2009 surfaced that hundreds of Indians and Bangladeshis alike are killed by the BSF indiscriminately along the wall. In fact, read this recent report by Human Rights Watch on new killings along the border just this year.

It’s clear that if these reports are true, treatment of Bengalis and others at the border is a breach of human dignity and a violation of their human rights, whether they are environmental refugees or not. And it also seems to me that more than finding palliative solutions, serious discourse on an international scale should be instigated to shape our migration policies to help those afflicted by environmental changes – obviously, we should share the “coping.” Right? How do we encourage governments to be accountable for the treatment of environmental refugees now and in the future?

Anyway, just some quick thoughts as I continue to learn more and more about the country that seems to be facing a very trying future. To the field for tool testing for about a week (EEK!), so more updates to come then!

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Allies on the Field

*July 5, 2011

I talk a lot about geographical barriers in the chars. My trip today to the Gaibandha field office is a perfect case in point of how arduous it can be to travel from Point A to Point B. Sareeta Apa and I left EFH early in the morning for a half-hour boat ride to the mainland. From there, another 20 minutes with a motorized rickshaw took us to the stop where we got on absolutely the most full public bus (a fun and funny experience all at the same time). We spent about an hour on the bus, and afterwards, took a motorcycle to the Gaibandha Field Office. Friendship was recently voted as the best-performing NGO in Gaibandha for 2011 (more information here).

We followed the same structure of the health meeting we had in Chilmari, with the main purpose of trying to identify the strengths and gaps in our current monitoring and supervision tools. Three paramedics, a health manager and the district supervisor attended the meeting – an impressive showing considering that today was the first day of a 48-hour hartal or national strike in Bangladesh. The strike is a result of recent political developments, namely a recent constitutional amendment which scrapped the provision for a pre-election caretaker government, making it so that elections will be held under an interim party government from now on.

Some of the best parts of these conversations is not only that we get valuable feedback from the level of the organization that deals directly with the community beneficiaries, but we also establish partnerships with the true program implementers. The significance of this cannot be understated. We leave these conversations with an overwhelming consensus that program monitoring and evaluation will help Friendship identify the problems in its programs and find ways to rectify them. The Friendship field staff are the most valuable allies we can have.

In addition to visiting the Gaibandha office, we also visited two NGOs to gain information about some of their own monitoring and progress-tracking tools. Namely, we visited GUK, which works in five districts in the North to strengthen coping capacity as climate change occurs. I was also impressed with the work of Akota, an NGO operating in Gaibandha that aims to establish sustainable livelihood with various interventions ranging from gender, justice and human rights to health, sanitation and environment.

Because of these various encounters and exchanges, I think a lot about the words that comprise my generally accepted epistome of development. It’s a constant tug-of-war in my head as I aim to answer my own questions of the macro vs. micro, quality vs. quality, collective vs. personal, what is actually possible with NGOs and what is not. I came to Bangladesh to seek clarity in some of these questions, but the obstacle of reconciling all of the parts of my experience will prove to be harder than I thought. One thing is for sure – for years, Friendship has prioritized the quantity over the quality to follow its philosophy of ensuring health access for all. My internship project is part of a strategic move on part of Friendship to review and fortify, to ensure quality access. This a daunting task given Friendship’s many arms and mere coverage, one that is made more onerous by some of the same barriers our beneficiaries face – geographic, economic, and even social obstacles that separate the Head Office from the field work.

On a simpler note, as we were leaving the mainland, we spotted a huge gathering of folks, singing in a narrow path next to a house. It’s impossible to observe anything here without attracting attention, so Sareeta Apa and I were ushered to the front to see a tradition that is a part of a Hindu wedding. It’s sights like this that make me feel like one of the luckiest people on Earth.

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