On September 8, the South Asia regional office of Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) was inaugurated in Dhaka with the attendance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. This is a milestone event to tackle climate change in the region, accomplished by GCA and the Government of Bangladesh, particularly the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change, and various stakeholders, in spite of constraints caused by the spread of Covid-19. Participants attending the partnership forum held after the launching ceremony of this regional hub also acted as proof of the rich human networks that have been built among academics, governments, civil societies and development partners in the region.
Adaptation is one of the focal areas of cooperation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) worldwide, as it is directly linked to its missions—human security and quality growth—and responses to climate change. Experiences and knowledge of Japan, a disaster-prone country, have effectively contributed to this approach. In addition, we have been urged on by a belief gained from evidence-based research as well as our own experiences—investment prior to calamities is usually much more cost-effective than emergency and recovery response after disasters. The importance of investment was also highlighted by the Sendai Framework 2015–2030, adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2015.
Challenges caused by different climate and geographic features, as well as natural and socioeconomic conditions, are various in South Asia. Accordingly, in this region, JICA has tackled a variety of issues related to adaptation, together with relevant governments, academic researchers and development organisations, such as research and development of early warning mechanisms for glacial lake outburst floods in Bhutan, institutional strengthening of disaster management agencies and meteorological observations in Sri Lanka, a wide range of activities from urban sewerage to mangrove afforestation in India, digitalisation of geographic maps with accurate elevation data in Nepal, capacity building of relevant officials and awareness raising at the community-level in disaster management in Pakistan, sea wall construction in Maldives and so forth.
For promoting adaptation in Bangladesh, JICA has closely collaborated with the government of Bangladesh mainly in three pillars: reduction of water-related disasters such as floods and waterlogging through strengthening of flood control and river management infrastructure and relevant capacity building; minimisation of damages caused by floods, cyclones and tidal surges, including development of meteorological radar systems for early warning and construction of 117 multipurpose evacuation shelters in the coastal areas; and agricultural responses, such as small-scale water management system and diversification of agriculture for farmers. During these collaborations, attention has been paid on a combination of infrastructure investment, knowledge sharing and technological transfer; connecting policies, planning and practical actions on the ground; multi-tier partnership with central ministries, municipalities and communities; and utilisation of multiple instruments including grants, loans and technical cooperation. This is also our mutual-learning process together with Bangladeshi colleagues.
Looking ahead in Bangladesh, the government and development partners have a common platform to tackling climate change—a visionary long-term plan called Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100. JICA has decided to join with Bangladesh and other partners to materialise the BDP 2100. As the first response to this plan, the agency just initiated a technical cooperation project called NODI, which will promote a tailor-made river engineering methodology in Bangladesh for better control of ever-changing river flows by mobilising knowledge of domestic and international researchers and engineers.
Adaptation needs a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach. It is essential to mainstream adaptation elements into a broad range of activities, sectoral and spatial planning, and each investment. Education, academic research and technological development will be also key factors. It will be a long and difficult journey—to find out an optimal or better solution between calamity risks and economic burdens. Actually, this dilemma has a substantial similarity with the world's current struggle against the pandemic—to seek the delicate balance between health threats and pains of societies and individuals.
Global endeavours to combat the present health threats have made people worldwide vividly aware of important but oft neglected facts, such as technology and innovation really matter to save our own lives; education, and sharing and dissemination of correct knowledge based on scientific evidence and analysis are essential for policymaking, research and development, and sustainable change of individual behaviours; risk reduction needs cost and burden-sharing; and policy decisions should be made through open, careful and participatory dialogue among not only policymakers and scientists but also with other broad stakeholders because all of us, more or less, shoulder risks as well as burdens such as tax and loss of income (the old slogan of "no taxation without representation" may be recalled). It seems all of these points are applicable to adaptation efforts as well. Of course, the spread of the novel coronavirus is a new and additional threat to people's lives and social safety, but the change in people's way of thinking under the pandemic might also become an opportunity to accelerate climate actions.
Bangladesh is a country on the largest river delta in the world, created by transborder river flows. The history of the country has been built on fights against natural disasters as well as on coexistence with them; it can be said that resilience and adaptation are national culture. And now, the government of Bangladesh is decisively committed to the climate issues and its role within the international community is remarkably expanding. Against this backdrop, the region welcomes the timely opening of the regional office of GCA in Dhaka—this is exactly the right place to be a great nexus for regional collaboration. This progress demonstrates that even the present health crisis cannot stop surging needs for knowledge sharing worldwide and joint endeavours for adaptation. Even amid the pandemic, we need to, and will, keep moving forward and faster together towards resilient societies.
Yuho Hayakawa is the Chief Representative of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Bangladesh Office.