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Global Development Institute

Dhaka boats

Community and institutional responses to the challenges facing poor urban people in Bangladesh in an era of climate change

Climate change in Bangladesh is, and will become increasingly, important in addressing poverty for poor urban people. Even small shocks can damage the livelihoods of poor urban households, which have few assets to deploy to cushion themselves from negative impacts. A series of small shocks can often trigger a collapse in household viability.

Poorer urban people spend much time and energy adjusting to changing environmental and economic conditions. Their efforts usually remain unnoticed, uncoordinated and unaided by national governments or international agencies. Understanding the ‘adaptation practices of the urban poor’ is important for agencies seeking to assist low-income urban people in an era of climate change.

Climurb research objectives:

  • To examine the key challenges facing poor urban people in Bangladesh and understand how these are compounded by climate change.
  • To investigate current adaptive practices adopted by individuals and communities to build, protect and maintain their livelihoods in the face of these challenges.
  • To examine the institutional structures which mediate urban poor people’s livelihood practices, and to assess their comparability across a selection of urban contexts in Bangladesh.
  • To provide policy-relevant findings that help public, private and non-profit agencies contribute more effectively to supporting the urban poor, particularly with adaptation to climate change

This project is led by Professor David Hulme, Dr Manoj Roy and Sally Cawood. it is funded by Economic and Social Research Council and The Department For International Development. It is being carried out in collaboration with BRAC University Dhaka.

Key academic publications

  • Book forthcoming (in press) 2016 Edited by Manoj Roy, Sally Cawood, Michaela Hordijk and David Hulme;  ‘Urban Poverty and Climate Change -Life in the Slums of Asia, Africa and Latin America’, Earthscan Routledge

Findings

The urban poor in case study cities (Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna) face high levels of risk and vulnerability that are, and will be, exacerbated by climate change. Its impacts are both direct and indirect. Directly: homes are flooded; drainage systems fail; water becomes scarcer; livelihoods are disrupted; incomes fall; and health burdens increase. Indirectly: rural livelihoods are destroyed and millions migrate to towns and cities, placing additional demand on already overstressed housing facilities and services and saturating the labour market. Low-income people are developing many innovative adaptation practices, acting individually and at household-level, as well as collectively. Individual and household-level actions predominantly involve diversifying livelihoods, forming and consolidating networks, and making adjustments to dwellings. Collective actions, in contrast, are more concerned with improving the quality of the built environment, including access to and management of public facilities. 

Context is king for adaptation to climate change for poorer citizens and security of land tenure is a particularly important contextual factor. Analysis of the significance of tenure security on adaptation practices reveal: (i) only when poor urban people’s tenure is relatively secure will they invest in shelter and basic service provision; (ii) security of tenure raises the prospects for both direct and indirect adaptation initiatives; (iii) insecure tenure often results in higher rates of mobility, undermining community-based adaptation efforts; and (iv) there is a large gap between people’s exposure to risk and their ability to develop effective adaptation practices, depending on whether they have some informal claim to their land and dwelling or whether they live in rented accommodation.

Complex sets of formal and informal institutions mediate poor urban people’s livelihoods and access to services. Informal institutions such as slum-dwellers’ associations are especially important. Government policy needs to include poor and low-income urban households. The draft national housing policy has been awaiting approval since 2004. The National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, BCCCAP 2009, had no strategies specifically aimed at the low-income urban population. The closest it got was ‘urban drainage’, developing structures like embankments and flood defences. Whilst these are important adaptation investments, the benefits from such projects will not reach poor urban people unless their rights are protected through policy. There is a danger such projects could make their situation worse, precipitating what is called ‘adaptation cleansing’: political or market-led evictions of poor urban residents by elites to seize the economic opportunities.