Erosion is causing loss of habitable land in many communities in Bangladesh.
The sites of the Gibika project: 1) Gabdola 2) Mazer Char 3) Dalbanga 4) Singpur 5) Babupur 6) Jamalpur 7) Bhola Slum

Gibika 2014 field trip report: Understanding livelihood risks in diverse regions of Bangladesh

The fieldwork phase of our Gibika project in Bangladesh took place from May to June 2014. The research team stayed three full days at each of the seven previously selected study sites: Gabdola, Mazer Char, Singpur, Babupur, Zamalpur, Dalbanga South and Bhola Slum in the capital Dhaka*. The map on the left shows the locations of our sites.

The aim of the intense fieldwork was to acquire a good, qualitative understanding of people’s livelihoods, the forces that drive change in livelihoods, and the environmental and other shocks or threats that undermine resilience at the study sites. In addition, current and past efforts to improve living conditions, as well as needs, opportunities and constraints at the study sites were explored. Overall, the focus was on two objectives:

  • Conducting research into resilience with respect to livelihoods, taking into account various regional risks such as riverbank erosion, flooding and drought;
  • Motivating local communities to develop solutions and proposals together with the Gibika project partners.

More precisely, during the fieldwork the research team was able to gain insight into spatial realities of people’s vulnerability and of environmental and other events or shocks that affected people’s livelihoods. The team also obtained a general overview of events that the inhabitants considered to be important in the history and development of their village. It was essential for the research team to understand how people at the study sites perceive threats of different types, how often livelihood shocks occur, the extent to which they have already affected households in the communities, and the differences between households with different coping strategies.

Diverse risks increase people’s vulnerability
To achieve this, the team conducted in-depth interviews based on individual life histories that focus on changes in people’s livelihoods. For example, one interviewee from Bhola Slum in Dhaka explained: “Our houses were destroyed many times by big floods. We realised that it would be better to raise the house level by putting soil beneath it. This helped to reduce our vulnerability to floods.” Nevertheless, bigger floods, heat waves, overpopulation and poor sanitation keep this site highly vulnerable.

In addition, the fieldwork team was able to understand the seasonal patterns of livelihood activities, human mobility, environmental stress and food scarcity. With this background, it compiled a list of perceptions about the positive and negative changes in the research area. It also established another list with past and current projects and interventions that aim(ed) to enhance resilience and improve living conditions. These interventions can be of a technical kind, such as building dams and shelter rooms, or longer-term approaches such as capacity building within the local communities. This had the purpose of avoiding redundant repetition and understanding what community members appreciate.

The insights gained in the current fieldwork will be used for the next fieldwork phase. Details of the findings will be presented at a later stage, but some overall observations have already been made: Mazer Char, Dalbanga South and Gabdola in the south, and Singpur in the central north of Bangladesh were identified as the most urgent sites in general. All of them are threatened by extreme river erosion and loss of habitable land, so rapid action is needed. Babupur and Zamalpur in the far northwest have water and drought problems due to their insufficient irrigation systems. There are already many NGOs and development programmes in Bhola Slum, but the situation is still precarious and help is needed: People continue to suffer.

The Gibika Steering Committee chose two sites to advance the implementation phase of our Gibika project:

  • Dalbanga South: This community in south Bangladesh faces many different risks, including floods and cyclones. Therefore, disaster risk management solutions such as early-warning systems can be part of the solution.
  • Bhola Slum: This site in Dhaka has a greater capability to recover. Nevertheless, many unsolved problems such as floods and poor sanitation combined with overpopulation remain. The people need assistance. We see financial risk transfer mechanisms as one good possibility to improve the situation, since the community proved to understand saving mechanisms and urgency funds. Due to the deeply entrenched clan structure, a strong local partnership must be used to advance projects in this location.

By selecting one urban and one rural site, the Steering Committee is trying to cover a wide range of different stressors and to test and improve different coping strategies.

* Forithpur has been replaced by Bhola Slum in order to include an urban area into our research project.
 

CB, 25 September 2014

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