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Resilience With Rainwater: Exploring Adaptation Practices In Coastal Settlements

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Afroza Parvin (Khulna ), Imran Faishal
Khulna University1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 17: Climate change, impacts and adaptation,
AbstractIntroduction: Climate change poses significant risks for Bangladesh, particularly for the coastal regions. The southwestern coastal region of Bangladesh has faced thirty large and moderate scale natural disasters since the last two decades (Alam, Asad and Parvin, 2014). Key climate change studies at national level predicted four major impacts of climate change in coastal areas: 1) more frequent cyclone and storm surge with higher intensity; 2) increased flooding, both in terms of extent and frequency; 3) increased water logging; and 4) increased salinity intrusion (BIDS, 1994; BCAS, BIDS, and BUP, 1996; Islam, M.T.U., 2004). These impacts are already visible and have made significant changes in coastal life, livelihood and environment. Nonetheless, millions of people are continuing to live in coastal areas coping with the changing environment (Parvin and Johnson, 2012). Coastal communities have developed unique ways to cope with disaster impacts applying indigenous knowledge and adaptation practices. However, due to lack of improvement of indigenous knowledge and coping strategies the communities are getting more vulnerable in adapting to increasingly unpredictable natural disasters. To this end the study investigates two interrelated issues - how coastal communities manage to cope with major disaster impacts using available rainwater; and what are the key vulnerabilities and strengths of their adaptation practices. The study addresses the issues both at community and individual household levels. It also sheds light on transferability of adaptation practices incorporating those with modern technologies, and scientific knowledge.

Methods/Material: In order to explore and assess rainwater-based adaptation practices Gabura, a southwestern coastal settlement of Bangladesh is studied. An interpretive methodology, which deals with explaining meaning, technicalities and human experience, is adopted in this study as a philosophical framework. In order to assess how the communities and households cope with water related problems intensive field study is conducted. The techniques adopted to conduct field study include technical drawings & documentation of measures used in built environmental adjustments, settlement mapping, observation of use & activities, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and Semi Structured Interviews (SSI). Data analysis is done by detailed study of technical measures, SWOT Matrix and reflection.

Results and Discussion: Since time immemorial, the fisherman and farmer communities in Gabura have been coping with surge water, flood water, water logging, and salinity intrusion problems using indigenous knowledge and experiences transferred from their ancestors (Parvin and Johnson, 2012). Crisis of sweet water is part of everyday life in Gabura. Cyclone damages all the sources (ponds and tube wells) of drinking water and sanitation facilities. High tidal surges contaminate all fresh water sources with polluted saline water. The study reveals how coastal communities rely on their indigenous knowledge at every step of anticipation, coping, adaptation and recovery. The result shows the communities overcome scarcity of sweet water by harvesting rainwater at every household using very simple traditional techniques and materials. At community level, they prepare some ponds as reservoir to collect and save rainwater for crisis period. Based on empirical findings the study develops a conceptual model for developing adaptation strategies and argues that, any intervention towards the development of adaptation strategies should be based primarily on local adaptation practices.

Conclusion: The study explores how best they utilize available resources and skills before taking help of the external agencies. Unfortunately, local adaptation practices is yet to find much recognition in policy making (Parvin and Johnson, 2014) or in modern disaster management theories and practices, which are increasingly driven by concepts, tools and practices, and are somewhat alien to the traditional communities. The onslaught of the so-called modern and quick fix solutions have threatened the vast pool of indigenous knowledge with extinction. Therefore, it is important to avoid too common categorization of traditional and scientific knowledge into mutually exclusive domains (Flavier, et al., 1995). Rather there is an urgent need to explore, document, and learn from local adaptation practices. The study reveals that traditional strategies are dynamic and continually influenced by the internal creativity and experimentation as well as contact with external systems. The study reveals that traditional strategies are dynamic and continually influenced by the internal creativity and experimentation as well as contact with external systems. This continuous process of experimentation, innovation and adaptation enables local adaptation practices to be flexible enough to blend with science and technology as well. Owing to the changing disaster context, it has become extremely important to find strategies to reconcile the two; where science can enable traditional practices to be easily understood by the professionals, and traditional knowledge enables scientific concepts to be translated into modes of communication that are locally understood (Flavier, et al., 1995).


1. Alam, A.F.M.A., Asad, R., and Parvin, A. (2014), "Climate change adaptation through grassroots responses: learning from the 'Aila' affected coastal settlements of Bangladesh", Walter Leal & Ilan Kelman (eds.) 'Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation', published by the International Climate Change Information Programme (ICCIP) and Springer. (in press).

2. BCAS, BIDS, and BUP (1996), Climate Change Country Study Bangladesh, Climate Change Study Programme by Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), and Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

3. BIDS (1994), Country Study on Bangladesh under Regional Study of Global Environmental Issues Project (Asian Development Bank TA No. 5463) on the Impact of Climate Change in Bangladesh, the Available Options for Adaptation and Mitigation Measure and Response Strategies, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Dhaka, Bangladesh.Flavier, J.M. et al. (1995), "The regional program for the promotion of indigenous knowledge in Asia", pp. 479-487 in Warren, D.M., L.J. Slikkerveer and D. Brokensha (eds.) The cultural dimension of development: Indigenous knowledge systems. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

4. Islam, M.T.U. (2004), Community based adaptation to climate change, UNDP, Bangladesh.

5. Parvin, A., and Johnson, C. (2012), "Learning from the indigenous knowledge: towards disaster-resilient coastal settlements in Bangladesh", Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Urban Sustainability and Resilience, 5-6 Nov. 2012, University College London, UK.

6. Parvin, A., and Johnson, C. (2014), "Revisiting climate change policies in Bangladesh: A vulnerability perspective", in Walter Leal & Ilan Kelman (eds), Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, International Climate Change Information Programme (ICCIP) and Springer. (in press).

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