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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Char-lands

Shishir Reza :
Bangladesh observes severe exposure to climate risks because of its geo-morphological, demographic and socio-economic temperament. Agriculture in haor and char region is also remarkably affected by climatic Hazards. It has tremendous negative effect on water security and food security as well.
Char-lands are the sandbars that emerge as islands within the river channel or as attached land to the riverbanks as a result of the dynamics of erosion and accretion in the rivers of Bangladesh. The Chars are, thus, home to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Bangladesh. These areas are particularly prone to the effects of frequent climatic shocks (floods, drought and cyclones) which increase the precariousness of poor people's lives by wiping out their assets and pushing them deeper into poverty. In addition to the major physical risks associated with the rivers, Char-dwellers in particular are marginalized from the benefits of mainland Bangladeshi society through their poor communication networks. The Char dwellers mainly depend on agriculture and agriculture related activities. Opportunities for off farm activities are marginal.
Livelihood strategies linked to environmental change and variability, are, therefore, by necessity, mobile to cope with regular erosion. These areas have not been the focus of development efforts of the public or private agencies in Bangladesh. The lack of basic services and governance representation and dependence on limited and seasonally variable resource access demands highly innovative and diversified livelihood strategies in the Chars but this also leads to considerable social inequity. High food insecurity and low income results in the out migration of at least one household member to find employment, leaving women and children to subsist. Many women headed households in the Chars and poorer women are burdened with household, crop cultivation and income generating demands.
In Char areas interventions to increase agriculture productivity without addressing the vulnerability context of peoples' livelihood strategies will do little to affect poverty dynamics. It may not offer options for those poorest families unable to incorporate the technologies introduced from the outside. Sustainable management of disasters through mitigation measures therefore requires increasing the livelihood options so that they gain more control over their lives and environment. Sustainable development requires harmonizing of environmental protection and development so that the natural resource base be protected and enhanced, and institutions are established to promote equitable growth, both factors which are essential for reducing disaster hazard risk and vulnerability. Diversification of livelihoods will need to be addressed to reduce pressure on natural and common property resources.  Poor Char dwellers need to be able to effectively sustain their livelihoods and engage in the local and national economy by broadening economic opportunities and strengthening productive livelihood strategies. This will reduce food insecurity; increase employment opportunities and income, and permit people to accumulate assets, which will improve their ability to cope with future shocks to their livelihoods without falling deeper into poverty.
Inequality implies fewer resources for the disadvantaged groups to commence coping and re- covery measures. These resources can generally take four forms: households' own (private) resources, community resources, resources provided by various non government organisations (NGOs), including religious and philanthropic organizations and philanthropic activities of private companies, foundations, and public resources provided by the government, including local governments. The interventions for the future can include a) building the effective voice of poor Char dwellers, as citizens, to demand services; b) building accountable and responsive institutions in the public, private and civil sectors to supply pro-poor services and infrastructure; c) providing Char dwellers with choice in service provision and diversified channels for access to services.
We always debate how climate change exacerbates economic inequality, but rarely do we think the opposite: that inequality itself can be a driver of climate change. What's missing from the conversation is what our inequality crisis is doing to our planet. How unequal societies inflict more environmental damage than more economically even societies. One key topic that is still overlooked is how environmental degradation and climate change are themselves the toxic by-products of our inequality problem. Many people who live in low-income communities, for example, cannot afford to retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient, meaning they use more power than necessary, generating more pollution. We are talking about the way inequality functions in our society, which has changed since the global financial crisis. People assume that raising incomes will increase personal consumption and, as a result, also increase carbon emissions, which would do little to alleviate climate change. But there are so many more mechanisms at play, including how power disparities hobble communities from protecting, for example, their air or their water. To protect the nature, we need good jobs a solid tax base, a good healthcare system, and we need criminal justice.

(Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst and Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association).