Bangladesh is the poster child for climate change. On any metric you can apply, Bangladesh comes out high on the list of most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. You can check out examples here and here. This country and its people are highly susceptible to just about every climate-linked driver of vulnerability you can think of – flooding, salinity, cyclones, drought, and extreme heat just to name a few.
Save the Children in Bangladesh has, for the last nine months, been working to increase understanding of climate change among children and their caregivers in three very different, but equally climate-vulnerable, parts of the country. The project, Integrated Child Centred Climate Change Adaptation in Bangladesh, is funded by the Australian Government through AusAID’s ANCP mechanism and aims to enhance community resilience through increasing children and civil society organisations’ development of ‘adaptive culture’.
One of the three areas in which the project works is Pirojpur district – one of the most disaster prone areas of Bangladesh. Pirojpur is in the highly climate-vulnerable delta, adjacent to the world famous Sunderbans mangrove forests. The district is subject to significant tidal flooding and cyclones, as well as salinization of soils and water logging – all of which are steadily worsening due to the intensification of climate change impacts.
Program staff in Bangladesh are working with in and out of school children in the district to increase understanding of the current and likely future impacts of climate change, and helping to catalyse school and community action to build adaptive capacity (the resources and knowledge to effectively manage many of the impacts of climate change).
Lokman Hossain is a 15 year old high school student from Chalisha village in the coastal area of Pirojpur. Lokman and his family are grindingly poor – forced into debt to fund medical treatment for Lokman’s mother. Their debt grew worse upon her death in 2011. Lokman and his six brothers and sisters struggle to make ends meet. In order to cover his educational expenses and help his family, Lokman sells vegetables in the market when he is not studying.
Lokman and dozens of children like him in Pirojpur have joined climate change clubs run by SCI partner organisation UDDIPAN. Through informal discussions and presentations, Lokman has come to understand how the intensity of the environmental hazards his family and community experience are increasing due to changes in the climate brought about largely by human activities in far off places.
He, along with other children in the club, have undertaken a climate risk and capacity assessment (CVCA) at the community level. Lokam said he feels confident in doing the climate risk identification and linking climate change impacts with concrete disaster risk reduction actions in his family and community:
I am very happy to be a part of CVCA. I was an introvert child and distressed with my own misery; now I feel so happy when my teacher, chairman and other respected people appreciate me for doing such work for the community.
Despite the short duration of the project, children like Lokman have expressed their desire to do more. They are actively engaged in their communities, highlighting the need to adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change. Children have made their newfound knowledge highly visible in their communities through artwork and public theatre shows. Mahfuzar Rahman, a Project Coordinator from UDDIPAN, visiting the village, said
This is very encouraging that children are motivated and performing active role as climate change adaptation advocates for their community.
While the children of Chalisha village have done less than pretty much anyone on the planet to cause climate change, they are already feeling the brunt of it. They are highly aware that the impacts are feeling now are just the beginning and, thanks to Save the Children, they are in a better position to deal with the consequences and, hopefully, fulfil some of their dreams of a better life.