When pond’s water is parched during the dry season, people living in the coastal area of Bangladesh know the worth of water needed to sustain life here

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” the line from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is more applicable when you go to the southwestern coastal region of Bangladesh. Owing to its very low elevation, the area is susceptible to various acute and slow-on-set natural hazards such as cyclone, storm surge, riverbank erosion, saline intrusion; and around 20 million people who are living along the coastal line have been suffering from adverse effects of these extreme events. The situation became worse after two consecutive super cyclones: Sidr (2007) and Aila (2009). It was almost impossible to find a single source of freshwater as both ground and surface water was contaminated with the high concentration of saline. Over the period, thousands of hectares of agricultural land have accumulated saline from frequent tidal surges, lost their productivity and shifted into monocultural shrimp farming hotspot. 

‘Water is Life’ as it plays the most significant role for existing every living being on the earth. At the dry session when the ponds are parched, people of the coastal area of Bangladesh know the worth of water as nothing is more demandable except adequate usable water to sustain life here. Aiming to address water-related threats and vulnerabilities of these impoverished populations, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation has initiated a project titled “Panii Jibon” (Water Is Life) that has been implemented by four local partners: Development Organization of the Rural Poor – DORP, Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center – BDPC, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program – OKUP and International Centre for Climate Change and Development – ICCCAD in Paikgacha and Koyra Upazila of Khulna and Morrelganj Upazila of Bagerhat. The overall objective of this project is to build resilience and reduce well-being loss of climate change affected disadvantaged communities, and particularly vulnerable women and youth, in the disaster-prone areas of Southwest Bangladesh.

“HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation has initiated a project titled “Panii Jibon” (Water Is Life) that has been implemented by four local partners”

The project started back in 2015, after completing its first phase (Phase-I, 2015-2017) and the second phase (Phase-II, 2018-2020) in 2020, now it is working towards its  final phase (Phase-III, 2021-2023) from 2021. Throughout the last two phases, the project has touched approximately 100,000 women and youth (including women-led households, people with special needs, and extremely poor people affected by recurrent disasters) of disadvantaged communities in accessing safe drinking water. The project also assisted in adapting the farming system (homestead based) to enhance local food security, nutrition and better income generation.  

Indeed, the project has been developed with four core features: water security, livelihood, migration and the cross-sectional mainstay climate change, where DORP, BDPC, OKUP and ICCCAD have worked collaboratively with strong coordination of Helvetas. Early action research helped to address the basic needs and diversified livelihood opportunities (WASH, saline tolerant crop and fish cultivation, functional disaster management structures) for the communities. To enhance the absorptive and adaptive capacities of disadvantaged communities, the project team has conducted day-long and residential capacity building training and workshop programs on livelihood, CRA (Community Risk Assessment), RRAP (Risk Reduction Action Plan) and climate change adaptation. Participants are sharing their learning in their communities that they acquired from the session and exercising the lessons by conducting similar training sessions at their working place.

At the community level, Panii Jibon has been achieving its goal of water security through creating opportunities and more options for fresh water sources, sanitation and hygiene. Around 50,000 people are now getting safe water for drinking and household purposes from newly built or renovated water sources. With the close collaboration of the local government, the project team excavated numerous new ponds, re-excavated existing pond and canal, distributed thousands of water tank for rainwater harvesting (RWH), constructed and renovated Pond Sand Filter (PSF), promoted hygiene and proper sanitation and provided sanitary latrine to the inhibitors. Their continued advocacy with local government makes a positive impact on the local budget and a visual change has been noticed at the local level particularly in the project areas where the wash budget has increased prior to Panii Jibon. In terms of livelihood; the project has supported the creation of alternative income sources, supported local farmers with seeds, technologies, demonstration and training. “Collection Center”, is one of the remarkable initiatives that has taken from Panii Jibon, where farmers come with their daily productions from their land and sell these to the buyer. “Now I do not need to go to the Bazar that is far from my home for selling my homestead’s production, even I can sell a kg of eggplant or bean at this collection center and get a better price,” said Mrs. Nurnahar lives in Raruli Union of Paikhacha Upazila. 

“At the community level, Panii Jibon has been achieving its goal of water security through creating opportunities and more options for fresh water sources, sanitation and hygiene”

In the context of climate change, migration dynamics in this area have also changed and in the last 20-30 years, at least one family member or relative has migrated from here to seek income-generating opportunities. Loss of income and lack of livelihood opportunities are the main triggering factors for migration to nearby cities. To ensure safe migration and proper utilization of remittance, at first, the project team identified potential migrants then provided them with different vocational and technical pieces of training and prepared them as skilled migrants as well as support to find out an alternative livelihood at their origin. The project also worked with the female counterparts of migrants who are living at their own houses and organized training programs for their livelihood. 

Likewise, Panii Jibon has used the lesson learning from the project achievements, connecting and integrating the local advocacy outcomes with national climate change and development-related advocacy structures and initiatives. Policy advocacy amplifying transparent and inclusive government structure and process for effective climate change financing and monitoring both at the local to national level. 

However, the next phase will begin with establishing climate justice, at not only the national and global levels but also concretely what climate justice means on the ground. Phase-III will focus on advocacy and replication of previous pashes by demonstrating the innovations of the last two phases and dissemination of climate-resilient approaches and models in the WASH and food sectors vertically and horizontally and link up more explicitly with climate change platforms networks as well as public authorities at all levels.

Juel Mahmud is working in International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Researcher, his research interest lies in Environmental Degradation and GIS. Can be reached at ([email protected])

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