The Financial Express

Impact of climate change on rural households

M S Siddiqui | Published: January 29, 2020 20:50:56 | Updated: February 05, 2020 20:38:12

Impact of climate change on rural households

Climate change is affecting ecosystem functioning, agriculture and food security, infrastructure, water resources, and human health. The non-industrialised and low-income nations located in tropical and sub-tropical climate are more prone to the negative impacts of climate change. These climate victims are paying extra amount from their limited resources to face the challenge or migrating to city for livelihood.

Weather and climate play important roles in agricultural productivity. The prevailing extreme weather events of erratic rainfall, temperature extremes, increased salinity, drought, floods, river erosion, and tropical storms and rising sea levels pose a threat for people in Bangladesh, particularly for people on low-incomes group living in coastal area. According to Bangladesh National Adaptation Programme of Action, the sea level along the Bangladesh coast is rising at about three millimetres a year. Salinity intrusion increased by 27 per cent from 1973 to 2009 (Soil Resource Development Institute, 2010). Due to this salinity rice production will fall by 8.0 per cent and wheat by 32 per cent by 2050.

Bangladesh needs a huge amount of money for adaption and mitigation of climate change. The government's total nominal allocation was Tk 189.5 billion for 2018-19. Bangladesh government contributes the bulk (82.5 per cent) of the climate and disaster budget from its own funds via various ministries and the rest cent comes from multilateral development partners. The World Bank and UN Development Programme (UNDP) are the main providers of disaster management funds, while international climate finance came from three main sources: the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) and the Climate Investment Fund (CIF).

There is a long-running debate over who are polluting the nature, who will pay and how much for climate and disaster risk reduction finance. But there is hardly any discussion about contributions from individual households. In many cases, households are likely to be the largest source of finance for climate and disaster risk reduction.

Bangladesh economy mainly relies on agriculture for employment and for feeding a huge population.  Sixty-five per cent of Bangladesh's population lives in rural areas. The agriculture is especially vulnerable to the risks of climate change. Bangladesh is experiencing recurring climate-induced disasters. The fund for climate change and disaster allocated from national exchequer is lower than the country needs, citizens living in rural areas need to finance many climate and disaster management actions.

Rural households invest in many defensive measures, such as improving and repairing land and homes to make them more resilient to climate and disaster events, restocking livestock to resume productive agricultural activities after disaster events, precautionary saving for emergencies and diversifying income and employment. There were 53 floods between 1990 and 2018. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) reported that Bangladesh also endured 70 storms during the same period.

The common adaptation practices in response to disaster exposure in Bangladesh include migration and increased labour supply to agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. Farmers adapt to changing temperature and rainfall by switching to more climate-resilient crops and can overcome part of their disaster-inflicted financial losses through land rental transactions.

According to 'Bearing the climate burden: how households in Bangladesh are spending too much', a new report by International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), September 2019, the rural households in Bangladesh spend a staggering sum of about US$2.0 billion a year to respond to disasters and climate change. This was more than double the government's spending and over 12 times more than multilateral international financing for the Bangladeshi rural population in absolute terms.

Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey (BIHS) 2015 found that a rural household spends on average Tk 759 on house repairs and/or purchases and Tk 5,849 on other emergency preparedness. In other words, a household spends more than Tk 6,600 on climate-related disaster management and emergency actions, whether incurred, ongoing and/or intended. This was equivalent to Tk 158 billion spent by the 24 million rural households in 2015-16.This preventive measure includes raising their houses above flood levels or strengthening their homes against cyclones.

The same study also indicated that disaster-affected households do not have enough access to formal sources of finance and they are more likely to borrow from informal sources at high interest rates. With little financial flexibility to respond to climate disasters, rural households are significantly affected. Using data from an official survey of more than 6,500 rural households across the country, a report titled 'Bearing the climate burden' reveals that families are the largest source of money being spent on climate and disaster preparedness and response in Bangladesh.

In this situation, families living in poverty have to divert money away from such basic necessities as food, education and health in order to repair their damaged homes and replace animals or destroyed crops. The families fall into increased hardship and disaster-affected households are compelled to borrow from informal sources at high interest rates, pushing them deeper into poverty.

Informal sources charge high interest  rates compared to formal financial institutions and microfinance NGOs. Dependence on such loan sources can mean that households get stuck in a credit trap while trying to overcome the risks of climate-induced disasters.

The rural households are unable to bear the expenses and it is crucial for the government and international funders to address this unacceptable imbalance in the requirement of fund for climate change and their income.

It is also important that local women and men are included in designing programmes to tackle climate change and address its impacts, as well as make sure that female-headed households are given the extra support they need.

Government intervention is needed to ensure greater coverage of the rural poor by formal financial institutions and NGOs to provide low-interest loans for disaster-risk reduction and climate adaptation.


M S Siddiqui is a Legal Economist


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