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Many poor people in Bangladesh depend on natural resources for their livelihood. Degradation and loss of access to natural resources deprives them of their livelihood potential. The impacts of climate change include higher temperatures, increasing and more variable precipitation, more extreme weather events, and sea level rise. Bangladesh suffers a variety of natural hazards including floods, tropical cyclones and droughts.
Natural disasters affect the poor most severely. Due to changing population patterns, the proportion of urban disaster victims is growing. Water issues are of increasing importance in Bangladesh, in connection with climate change and the overuse of ground water, both in rural areas as well as in congested urban settlements. Arsenic and salinity intrusionin the coastal regions jeopardise the availability of safe water. Many water sources used for drinking are either surfacewater (ponds), untreated and thus unhygienic, or contaminated with arsenic. Poor sanitation and hygiene result in diarrhoea and other infectious diseases, which further contribute to undernutrition of children.
Women's opportunities and public participation in Bangladesh have improved significantly in recent decades. However, women still face discrimination in the family, society and the state. They suffer from exclusion and injustice, have negligible influence in decision-making and are disadvantaged in their right to property.
The current geographical focus is on the north-western divisions of Rajshahi and Rangpur, as they are most severely hit by climate change-induced hazards such as droughts and floods. Furthermore, emphasis is put on Dhaka, the vibrant and dynamic capital of Bangladesh with an extremely high population density. Natural and man-made disasters affect the migrants seeking a better life in the capital most. Additional focus is laid on the south-western Barisal division, where rising sea level and increasing hazards lead to saline water intrusion.
Climate Change Adaptation & Disaster Risk Reduction
Caritas Switzerland invests in disaster preparedness and resilience through capacity building in communities and coordination between them, local authorities and other duty bearers. The geographic focus for rural Disaster Risk Reduction projects is the drought-prone North-West (Greater Rajshahi) and the Southern belt (Khulna, Barisal), which suffers from climate change-induced cyclones, storm surges, tidal surges, and sea level rise. Caritas Switzerland combines Disaster Risk Reduction with agricultural adaptation (within the water for food projects in the north).
Because of the growing urban population, a new focus is on addressing disaster- and everyday risks in the slums of major cities such as Dhaka and Khulna. The goal is to contribute to increasing awareness and resilience among poor urban settlers in the face of natural hazards as well as risks caused by unplanned urban development. The activities improve access to community infrastructure and services, such as water, sanitation and drainage facilities, in coordination and collaboration with relevant departments of the city authority. Policies and provisions such as the Disaster Management Act will be enforced through advocacy work, resulting in improved access to services for slum dwellers. Urban Disaster Risk Reduction is a relatively new area of intervention for Caritas Switzerland, and insights are continuously made available to the head office to deepen the organisation’s knowledge.
Water Sanitation & Hygiene
The north-western regions are particularly vulnerable, due to the high incidence of poverty coupled with social exclusion of the indigenous peoples. Depleting water tables in the north-western regions, compounded by the adverse impact of climate change, pose severe threats.
Green water is a particular need in the northwest of Bangladesh. Smallholder farmers have limited access to water for irrigation, due to the cost of machinery and diesel / electricity, and transportation of heavy equipment. Community-owned solar water pump-driven irrigation systems enable farmers to intensify cultivation, achieve greater returns from farming, increase their income and improve their food security status. A 'farmer Field School' approach is used to select suitable farmers and to provide training that ensures a sustainable use of the solar-powered systems. Improving access to blue water is achieved not only through solar-powered systems but also through the repair / construction of community water points or digging of new tube wells and water reservoirs.
Sanitation and Hygiene education remains a major challenge in the northern regions. Inadequate disposal of human excreta, low sanitation coverage and lack of personal hygiene are linked to a range of diseases and pose a serious public health concern. In Bangladesh, workers from the poorer segment of society depend on their health as the main capital to earn their livelihoods. Sanitation-related diseases not only cause expenses for medication but also a loss of productivity. With a continued emphasis on Water Sanitation & Hygiene, Caritas Switzerland contributes to breaking this vicious cycle of poverty. In order to promote Sanitation and hygiene education, approaches such as 'Community Led Total Sanitation' and 'Children’s Hygiene and Sanitation Training' are applied.