The Ill Wind that Blew Bainpara towards a More Climate Resilient Future

Jan 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Adaptation, Bangladesh, Capacity Development, Financing, Lessons, News, Resilience, Solar Energy, Technologies, Vulnerability

Guardian: Three years after it was decimated by cyclone Aila, Bainpara in south-west Bangladesh is being rebuilt with UK assistance.

On 25 May 2009, the village of Bainpara, in the district of Khulna on Bangladesh’s south-west coast, was wiped off the map. Driven by the 120km/h winds of cyclone Aila, a 12ft wall of sea water tore through the area, destroying rice crops, trees, homes and entire villages.

Three years on, Bainpara is being put back together, at a new location, as part of a UK-funded pilot project. The Bangladesh government’s comprehensive disaster management programme II (CDMP II), which is supported by the UK and other donors, is exploring a more sustainable approach to climate adaptation.

For Rahima Begum, a 48-year-old widow, and her daughter Rehana, 26, who has learning disabilities, surviving Aila turned out to be the easy part. Clinging to an embankment, they rode out the storm, but found themselves among half a million coastal villagers left homeless.

“We lost everything,” says Rahima, who still lives in a makeshift hut. “There is no income. My husband is dead and I have a disabled daughter to look after. Where do I go?”

Recurrent flooding caused by broken embankments has pushed the Begums and their neighbours deeper into poverty. The wells and watercourses are tainted by salt water, making agriculture and fishing almost impossible.

But the new project has brought hope to the residents of Bainpara. In the first phase of the project, 58 landless families are being relocated to a “climate resilient” settlement half a mile away.

“Instead of rebuilding their old homes and exposing them to the same old risks, we are creating a village which can survive cyclones and floods while providing sustainable livelihood options,” said Mohammad Abdul Qayyum, national project director of CDMP.

In mid-January Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s secretary of state for international development, visited Bainpara. He said the climate adaptation and livelihoods projects in the area were a good example of British aid making a difference.

“Bangladesh is leading the developing nations in the global fight against climate change,” said Mitchell. “This is a great example of building back better – a climate change adaptation programme with clear development benefits.”

According to CDMP officials, traditional cyclone shelters are expensive to build and maintain, and are rarely used. Villagers are often reluctant to leave their homes and go to the shelters when a storm comes, resulting in loss of life. CDMP officials say climate resilient settlements will allow families to stay in their own homes with access to food, water and power.

The project gives each selected family ownership of 0.06 of an acre of land and a house which, in theory at least, will be able withstand disasters like Aila. It also encourages them to diversify their livelihoods and asset base to help them cope better with climate change.

According to Qayyum, the project is based on sound science. “Our engineers have tested prototypes of the house and shown that they can withstand wind speeds of up to 215km/h,” he says. “The homesteads have been raised five feet above the highest known flood level. They also have renewable energy and water sources.”

The system would be cheaper and much more sustainable in the long run, since the habitat would be owned and managed by the community, he added. There are also other benefits, as Abjol Mia, a farmer who had been living in a makeshift shelter with his family, pointed out. “I am working on my own home and getting paid for it,” he said, showing off a gleaming solar panel and a brand new rainwater harvesting system.

The project is not without its critics. Some have questioned the selection criteria. But Sheikh Abul Hossain, a local council chairman and member of the selection committee, said the process was transparent.

“As an elected official, I can say we chose the poorest and most deserving families,” he said. “There are many more we had to leave out. We need more projects and more habitats.”

A UK-supported livelihoods programme, running parallel to the habitat project, helps extremely poor households – many of them headed by women – diversify their income by establishing small businesses.

The programme, known as Shiree – meaning “steps” in Bangla – and implemented by the NGO Save the Children, boasts impressive results after three years’ work.

“I’ve seen credible data that 74% of beneficiaries of the Shiree project have managed to lift themselves off the bottom, and now have a chance of a better life,” said Mitchell. “It’s wonderful that British aid is lifting the poorest of the poor on to the ladder of economic opportunity.”



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