For quite sometime managing coastal resilience has been identified as one of the key issues for the country's sustainable development. Given the low deltaic topography with huge swathes of the land forming the coast line and millions of people living there, it is important not only to ensure safety and livelihoods of the inhabitants but also to explore and utilise the available resources much of which are believed to be untapped. A recent World Bank report has echoed the urgency of the task saying Bangladesh needs to continue investment in coastal zones to strengthen climate resilience amid increasing climate risks to protect its development gains.
The report 'Bangladesh: Enhancing Coastal Resilience in a Changing Climate' highlighted the country's journey towards reducing vulnerability to climate change, and suggested actions towards improving the resilience of its coastal regions. It analyses the drivers of risks, the ongoing efforts of the government to reduce these risks and also offers new perspective and innovative solutions. It appreciates the government's work saying, "Despite vulnerability to climatic risks, Bangladesh has emerged as a global leader in climate change adaptation, and is known for proactively investing in resilience."
"Coastal resilience is not a static goal to be met, but rather a continuous process of adapting to changing conditions and finding synergies between development objectives," said Dandan Chen, World Bank acting country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
The coastal zone of Bangladesh covers an area of 47,201 sq km, 32 per cent of the country, according to survey conducted by experts. Coastal zone of Bangladesh consists of 19 districts comprising 147 upazilas. Experts have drawn a distinction between upazilas facing the coast and the upazilas located behind them. A total of 48 upazilas in 12 districts that are exposed to the sea are called exposed coast and the remaining 99 upazilas of the coastal districts are termed interior coast. The 19 coastal districts are Jassore, Narail, Gopalganj, Shariatpur, Chandpur, Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat, Pirozpur, Jhalakati, Barguna, Barishal, Patuakhali, Bhola, Lakshmipur, Noakhali, Feni, Chattogram, and Cox's Bazar. These are characterised by gentle shorelines with river valleys, barrier islands, and flat tide.
Depending on geographic features, the coastal zone of Bangladesh consists of three parts-- eastern zone, central zone, and western zone. The western region, known as the Ganges tidal plain, comprises the semi-active delta and is crisscrossed by numerous channels and creeks. The central region is the most active with continuous processes of accretion and erosion. Meghna river estuary lies in this zone. The eastern region is covered by hilly areas and is more stable. The coastline here is 710 km long composed of the interface of various ecological and economic systems, including mangroves.
Although the coastal ecosystem of Bangladesh contains a highly functional and structurally diverse ecology, this ecology is gradually being degraded. As a consequence, the quality of life of a large section of the coastal community is in economic decline. The basic natural system processes and events that cause vulnerabilities of the coastal zone are-- tidal fluctuations, salinity (soil, surface water or groundwater), and cyclone and storm surge risk.
The aforementioned WB report states how long-term investments in disaster risk reduction can save lives, reduce economic losses, and protect development gains. The report referring to the accomplishment of the government in this respect stated that this was possible due to a range of initiatives backed up by a strategic policy framework from grassroots-level adaptation and community-based early warning systems to structural investments in infrastructure, complemented by nature-based solutions and innovation.
Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has reduced cyclone-related fatalities by 100-fold, the WB report mentioned. This is no mean achievement. However, rapidly growing population, environmental degradation, and increasing climate risks are putting pressure on the existing natural and infrastructure systems in the coastal zone which is home to about 40 million people. The report finds that further investments in coastal resilience would produce an array of economic, social, and environmental benefits for the country. It lays out some key recommendations to strengthen the resilience of the coastal region, including strengthening operation and maintenance of infrastructure, recognising local knowledge, and utilising state-of-the-art modelling tools. Given the changing climate and dynamic coastal processes, a risk management framework should act as the guiding principle for adaptive delta management. Infrastructure investments need to be complemented with nature-based solutions. The coastal area can benefit from inclusive community participation and livelihood adaptation for sustainable resilience. Lastly, the report says, establishing an integrated framework that goes beyond risk reduction and includes growth, well-being, and sustainable development at its core should be the prime objective of strengthening coastal resilience planning.
It may be noted that the World Bank is involved with coastal and climate resilience and disaster preparedness in the country for long. Currently, with a $1.9 billion project, the WB is working on climate resilience through multipurpose cyclone shelters, embankments, early warning systems, weather services, and afforestation.
The suggestions in the report may not be altogether new given the long engagement of the experts and designated government agencies in managing coastal resilience, still it is expected that the findings would reinforce the on-going activities and help adoption of future plans.