Article Access: How Vulnerable are Bangladesh’s Indigenous People to Climate Change?

by Chidera Olalere

‘How Vulnerable are Bangladesh’s Indigenous People to Climate Change?’ is an article written by Bernhard G. Gunter, Atiq Rahman, and A.F.M Ataur Rahman and published in the Bangladesh Development Research Working Paper Series (BDRWPS) in April 2008. This centre is a non-profit organisation that researches and educates people on development issues in Bangladesh.

The paper aimed to compare the vulnerabilities to climate change and climate variability of the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) indigenous people in Bangladesh to the vulnerabilities amongst the Bengali population of Bangladesh, distinguishing between individual vulnerabilities, which focus on an individual’s capacity to adapt to climate change, and spatial vulnerabilities, which are related to a person’s location.

Chittagong District, shown in yellow on the left

The topic was introduced with an explanation of the characteristics of Bangladesh that make it susceptible to climate change-induced vulnerabilities. The authors mention the high population of Bangladesh, the frequency of climate change disasters, as well as the high level of absolute poverty which makes it difficult for Bangladeshis to access resources that could assist in tackling climate change. Furthermore, the authors cite the landslide in Chittagong in 2007 as an example of when the CHT indigenous people have been adversely affected by climate change disasters in a manner and to an extent that dramatically affected their quality of life.

With regards to individual vulnerability factors, Climate Change Cell reported that “poorer people are more susceptible to the destruction caused by hurricanes and flooding. The poor live in substandard housing that is susceptible to damage from winds, heavy rain, and floodwaters” in 2007, naming poverty as one of the vulnerability factors.

The second individual vulnerability factor mentioned was landlessness — “20% of CHT tribal population are landless, contributing to the national 34% of Bangladesh being landless, despite CHT making up less than 1% of the national population”.

The final individual vulnerability factor was illiteracy — “In 2001, the average illiteracy rate within the CHT tribal population was 62% compared to the non-tribal population of 53%. This illiteracy rate has not changed since 1991! The Socio-economic Vulnerability Index (SVI) was also used to measure the percentage of households facing crisis, both manmade and natural. Although the use of both manmade and natural factors makes the index of limited use in measuring vulnerability to climate change, the CHT were assigned a low SVI score, according to the paper.

As for the spatial vulnerability factors, the authors conceded that there are severe data constraints that make it challenging to distinguish between the tribal and non-tribal people within the CHT. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (2005) is able to make use of hazard maps to predict the likelihood of moderate floods in CHT with projections predicting severe droughts in 2030. Using these hazard maps, it is also clear that CHT is within the medium to severe global landslides. The authors propose that the tribal and non-tribal populations are equally affected by landslides as long as they are both in the hazard zone, but that the tribal population concentrated in CHT are more vulnerable to landslides compared to the rest of Bangladesh due to their high population density, even though a substantial part of the rest of the Bengali population living in CHT are equally vulnerable to landslides.

The article finished with suggestions for improvement. Some of these recommendations included increasing enrollment in primary schools to reduce illiteracy rates, improving land quality in CHT to help reduce the landlessness problem and to provide various means of income with land. The final recommendation was to create early warning indicators in cyclone shelters so that the CHT indigenous people could be warned of climate change disasters.

References:

Gunter, B. G., Rahman, A., & Rahman, A. F. M. (2008). How Vulnerable are Bangladesh’s Indigenous People to Climate Change?. Bangladesh Development Research Center (BDRC).

Image: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Bangladesh

Chidera Olalere is a student at Scarborough College studying the International Baccalaureate programme. She is author and creator of Dera’s Diary, an online blog exploring social issues on a personal and societal level.

Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on May 27, 2022.

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