Climate change, food security and our vulnerability | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 17, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 17, 2019

Climate change, food security and our vulnerability

A UN report (2018) has suggested that hunger is rising globally with unruly climate: over 821 million people in the world were undernourished in 2017.  In Bangladesh, the government with many development partners, NGOs and the communities are making relentless efforts to reduce extreme poverty.  There has been much progress in poverty reduction in the country in the recent years, but the impacts of climate change are aggravating poverty in some regions. However, it has been observed that many people in the Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions are being threatened by extreme poverty as a result of climatic events, like flooding and river erosion in the north-western region of Bangladesh. A recent survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has identified Kurigram as the most poverty stricken district in the country, with the highest poverty ratio lingering as an outcome of the negative effects of climatic events.

The German NETZ and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) have undertaken a participatory and multi-disciplinary research to understand and document the climate change trends in the region and the associated impacts of climate change on livelihoods and food security of the poor and indigenous communities.

Long term trends and impacts of climate change

The northwestern region is suffering from both climate variability (temperature rise, change in precipitation and changes in seasonal patterns) as well as climatic extremes including frequent flood and river bank erosion, heat stress and drought, erratic rainfall, thunderstorm, cold wave and fog. The study conducted a long-term trend analysis of climate data and has suggested that the average rise of temperature in the northwestern region would be 1.3°C and 2.6°C for the years 2030 and 2070, respectively. Winter precipitation is projected to decrease at a higher rate in 2030, while in 2075 there would not be any appreciable rainfall in winter.

On the other hand, monsoon precipitation would increase at a rate of 12 percent and 27 percent for the two projection years, respectively. This means there would be severe drought in summer and more devastating floods in monsoon in the region. Recent floods in quick succession make the onset of climate induced shocks visible. The increasing trends of floods and river bank erosion in northern Bangladesh are affecting agriculture, food security and livelihood of the millions living in the region.

The participatory research has identified several kinds of climate change stresses and natural disasters in the region. The community people are already experiencing increasing drought and heat stresses, flood and river bank erosion, drawdown of under-ground water, cold wave and fog, Nor’wester and thunderstorm and pest attack.

The participants in the Rajshahi region have identified drought and heat stress as the most harmful effects of climate change followed by falling ground water levels and cold waves.  The participants in Dinajpur also identified drought, heat stress and declining ground water levels as major climate disasters, along with cold wave, Nor’wester and flood; while the participants in Rangpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha have identified flood and erosion as the most devastating natural disasters, which have been intensified by climate change in the recent years.

Climate change, livelihood and our growing problems

Temperature rise, drought, frequent floods and river bank erosion are affecting resources, infrastructures and livelihoods of the people every year. Subsistence agriculture, share cropping, home garden and vegetable growing were identified as the most affected and vulnerable sectors, which are critically important for nutrition and income of the poor, indigenous communities and women. Crop cultivation, vegetable and home gardening have been highly affected by drought in Rajshahi and Dinajpur.

Frequent floods and river erosion have a more significant impact on key livelihood sectors including agriculture, livestock, poultry, food security, water, sanitation and health in the Rangpur region, compared to Rajshahi and Dinajpur. Flood also affects the livelihoods of the poor and the regional infrastructures including roads and communication systems, which again limit the livelihood activities of the poor, women and marginalised people.

The farmers have informed that climate hazards are causing huge loss and damage to agriculture. The farmers in Rajshahi and Dinajpur, cannot plant crops in time due to drought conditions and low soil moisture in dry season and have to wait for rain for months. In the villages studied under the survey, the growth and yield of wheat, maize, vegetable and fruits have been affected by drought and low rainfall. Pest attack has been reported as common in the region. Flood damaged standing crops including paddy and vegetables in the charland and flood plains of Rangpur and Dinajpur.

The community also informed that wage earning is another problem in the region.  The working potential of the poor is reduced due to heat stress, severe cold and fog. The poor do not get much work in charland in Rangpur region and the male members of the poor families have to migrate to the cities and other districts to earn wages. The women, children and the elderly suffer the most due to food and social insecurity in charland during and after flood.  These people desperately need social safety net and disaster risk reduction support from the government and development partners.

Dr Dwijen Mallick is a fellow of BCAS, and Zakir Hossain works for NETZ Bangladesh.

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