Bangladesh’s rural families bear the brunt of climate change

Households are spending more than they receive in aid from the government and foreign donors.

Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox''s Bazar, Bangladesh. [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
Rural households in low-lying Bangladesh are especially prone to floods and other extreme weather patterns [File: Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Bangladeshi families in rural areas have been spending 12 times more each year than the foreign aid the flood-prone country receives to prepare for and cope with the effects of climate change, researchers said on Thursday.

Households headed by women – who generally earn less than men – are under even greater pressure since they spend a larger share of their earnings on dealing with climate-linked disasters, said a report from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

“This … shows very clearly that the poorest households in Bangladesh are bearing the brunt,” Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This is very likely to be the case in all other developing countries,” he added.

Low-lying Bangladesh – where floods this year have killed at least 60 people and displaced nearly 800,000 – is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of rising global temperatures, including more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

The report was published days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit where leaders will discuss ways to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 to rein in climate change.

Based on government data from 2015, researchers found that Bangladeshi rural households spent nearly $2bn a year – about $79 per family – to prepare for difficult times like floods and storms, as well as on repairing homes.

The report said foreign donations for climate-related disasters amounted to only $6.50 per rural household each year.

And while the Bangladesh government increased spending to deal with climate change impacts in rural areas from $884m in 2014 to $1.46bn in 2018, experts believe that is still not enough.

“The global, as well as national, funding going to support the poorest and most vulnerable households and communities is just a drop in the bucket compared with the need,” said Huq.

Atiq Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, welcomed the report but said it provided only a partial picture since it focused solely on rural families, when in reality the situation was far worse.

“We have multiple impacts which create a thick soup of problems,” Rahman said. For instance, there are many poor people living in slums in cities after being forced to leave their homes in rural areas due to floods and river-bank erosion.

“How do you monetise the trauma they have gone through?”

Nurul Quadir, a senior official at Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said the state would definitely have to increase its climate budget in the coming years to support its citizens.

“If we were spending 5 taka ($0.06) in the past, we are spending 15 today. And we might have to jump to 500 in the coming years. It’s going to be difficult,” Quadir said.

The report also suggested local people should be included more in designing programmes to adapt to climate change to ensure their priorities are met.

Source: Reuters