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VOL 21 NO 85 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Wednesday, February 05 2014
Posted : 05 Feb, 2014 00:00:00 AA-A+
Promoting resilient livelihoods in river islands
Farid Hasan Ahmed
Promoting resilient livelihoods in river islands
Two farmers collecting pumpkins at Domar Char on the Teesta basin in the upstream of Teesta barrage in Nilphamari district

Natural calamities have overwhelmed mankind from time immemorial. The threats of disaster are ever increasing in the globe, but the types of events experienced are based on each country's geography, capacity, context, resilience and many other critical factors.

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. The people on river islands (char) of the northern region of Bangladesh live in extreme uncertainties, risk and multifarious vulnerabilities. This area is exceptionally vulnerable mainly due to   floods, river bank erosion, draught, etc. Rivers of this country being very large in size, new chars are always rising in the river beds. However, the vulnerable people are compelled to build their shelters in these areas. People in the chars are poor and vulnerable because of chronic food insecurity, indebtedness, gender discrimination, high rate of unemployment, little or no access to health care, lack of education and other services, social exclusion, unequal distribution of land and chronic impact of annual flooding.

People inhabiting in the chars are hard working, possess indigenous knowledge of cultivation, and have great risk-taking ability. To redress their difficulties, the relationship between Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and development initiatives needs to be understood by the key stakeholders. Over the last three decades, Bangladesh has invested in disaster management and has now gained considerable ability to manage natural disasters, in particular, floods and cyclones, in a better way. The Disaster management vision of the government of Bangladesh is to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards to a manageable and acceptable level, and to have in place an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large scale disasters. There are elements in the vision that need continuous political and administrative commitment and actions from parties in power to improve people's livelihoods, capacity and resilience for facing/avoiding probable hazards and reducing poverty.

The following points are mentioned for the authorities concerned for promoting resilient livelihoods of the vulnerable people in the riverine areas of Bangladesh, keeping in view the major hazards, socio-economic conditions and DRR practices of the areas:

n Natural disasters are there in the char areas round the year, which make them vulnerable and do not help to create a situation to improve the conditions of their lives. The focus on disaster is thus crucial in such a rough environmental condition. To have a better impact, more systematic effort has to be taken to improve livelihood of the people of riverine areas. Without integration of livelihood components, it is impossible to bring any realistic long term impact.

n New initiatives are required by the existing NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and relevant government departments to identify alternative employment activities and livelihood opportunities with proper DRR analysis and consultation with vulnerable communities. Feasibilities of enterprise development and marketing avenues need to be explored thoroughly. A clear strategy must be adopted for the most vulnerable locations creating a standard programme on micro enterprise development. Enterprise development activities require large amount of financial involvement. Therefore, linkage development with financial institutions to ensure the financial support is important. Before supporting any initiatives in it, potential markets for the products should also be considered.

n Any livelihood initiative in the river islands has to take into consideration the disaster characteristics so that the initiative addresses the key areas. Involvement of the community members and enlisting their inputs in any kind of programme design and relevant issues affecting their livelihood will make the intervention process impact-bearing.

n Mainstreaming DRR and CCA (Climate Change Adaptation) in existing development programmes and future initiatives of different government departments working in the area is a must. Concerned authorities should develop disaster data base which is very important to carry out detailed study and planning. Government agencies and NGOs need to redesign their development programmes with active participation of the most vulnerable communities to maximise hazard mitigation potential and also incorporate traditional community-coping practices. DRR measures need to be systematically integrated into the development programmes of all agencies, particularly those working in the region.

n Availability of adequate resources from the government and others should be ensured by authorities and policy makers.

n The sandy nature of the soil of river islands is not suitable for many crops that have popularity among the plain land communities. Therefore, it is essential to identify the suitable crops for the river basin areas as well as disaster-friendly crops. More skill development training on agriculture along with post training technical follow-up should be offered for the farmers.

n More adaptive demonstrations/ trials should be undertaken at the most vulnerable areas for deciding appropriate crop varieties. Marketing linkages, small trading of vegetables, milk, chicken, eggs, fishes and other agricultural products can be developed.

n Insufficiency of livestock and poultry vaccines as well as extension support of agriculture is the normal scenario of the area. Policy level intervention is required to solve these issues at top level.

n Land ownership and share-cropping system in the river islands are fraught with many lacunas. This issue should be addressed to deliver well sustained livelihood for people.

n Close networking among government, NGOs as well as local institutions are very important in reducing the vulnerabilities and poverty of the areas and to ensure wider and durable cooperation for more effective disaster risk management.

n Local NGOs can link up institutionally with the Local Government and can contribute in designing programmes for local government on DRR. Respective authorities at different levels should strengthen capacity building initiatives of local government. A well organised effort is needed to further strengthen local level planning, implementing decision making process and allocation of resources to local government for DRR.

The writer is associated with Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Dhaka. Views expressed are of the writer                  and has no link with the                agency he works for. [email protected]

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