By Kamily Chakma, Chakma Indigenous Community, Bangladesh
Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh are taking climate action to mitigate the impacts of climate change in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Climate change is posing a significant challenge globally. The long-term transformation of weather and temperature patterns impacts the society, economy, and politics, particularly in developing countries, including Bangladesh.
Over the past few decades, Bangladesh has experienced an alarming increase in extreme events linked to climate change. These include cyclones, storm surges, rising sea levels, saline intrusion, floods, flash floods, erratic rainfall, and drought-like conditions.
These events affect the lives and livelihoods of the people in Bangladesh. As the frequency and intensity of such events continue to escalate, it becomes crucial to address the pressing issues arising from climate change.
Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)
In Bangladesh, there are about 54 distinct Indigenous communities, with a higher concentration residing in the remote Chittagong Hill Tracts. Climate change threatens this unique environment, much like it does to other areas of Bangladesh.
Indigenous communities, often residing in climate-sensitive regions and heavily reliant on natural resources, are more vulnerable to extreme weather events compared to non-Indigenous groups.
Despite comprising only 1.8% of the country's population, the Indigenous communities have already experienced adverse effects from climate change. These include the loss of land and crops, displacement, and increased susceptibility to waterborne diseases.
Furthermore, due to limited access to basic rights and frequent social exclusion, Indigenous communities face heightened vulnerability to climate change-induced disasters. These unfavorable circumstances exacerbate our socioeconomic challenges, endangering livelihoods, health, and critically, our traditional ways of life and cultural practices.
It is important that the concerns of Indigenous communities in the face of climate change are addressed. By recognizing the Indigenous Peoples’ vulnerability, promoting inclusive policies, and ensuring equitable access to resources and rights, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, and relevant stakeholders can help safeguard their livelihoods, preserve their rich cultural heritage, and build resilience in the face of environmental challenges.
Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh
Indigenous Peoples have long thrived in challenging environments by crafting diverse nature-based adaptation strategies. While these approaches prove effective, they may be perceived as lacking scientific quality in the Global North.
In Bangladesh, Indigenous communities are actively adapting to climate change through innovative agricultural practices, livelihood transformations, and resilient infrastructure development. By combining traditional wisdom with scientific methods, they offer valuable insights for sustainability. Therefore, collaborating with Indigenous communities can foster resilience for a changing world.
Climate impacts on Chittagong Hill Tracts
The past few decades, the Chittagong Hill Tracts have faced significant challenges due to massive infrastructure expansion, land use changes, forest degradation, and biodiversity loss. These factors have taken a toll on the delicate ecosystem of the region. Recent reports indicate that approximately 80,000 hectares of forest area have been lost in the past five to six years alone, creating even more damage.
One of the consequences of deforestation is the disappearance of the watershed in the hilly area, leading to the dry-up of streams and springs. The watershed, responsible for collecting rainfall and streams and channeling them to a single outlet, has been significantly affected. Additionally, global warming has changed the rainfall patterns in CHT, shifting from a uni-modal to a bimodal distribution.
In a uni-modal wet season, there is only one peak of rainfall, with no alternation between humid and dry months throughout the rainy season. However, bimodal rainfall patterns, characterized by two distinct peaks separated by at least one dry month, are essential for maintaining a balanced water supply.
Unfortunately, numerous streams and springs in Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban districts have dried up, depriving residents of access to clean water. Climate change, deforestation, stone extraction from stream beds, and the loss of forests have all contributed to this alarming situation.
The depletion of water sources in the CHT region calls for immediate attention and sustainable solutions. Preserving the forest cover, implementing conservation measures, and adopting responsible land-use practices are crucial steps towards restoring the natural balance and securing water resources for the local communities. Collaborative efforts and awareness of the impacts of human activities on the environment can pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable future in the area.
Climate change impacts on the Indigenous Peoples of Chittagong Hill Tracts
Landslide exposure has become a significant concern in various regions, drawing attention to the impact of land-use changes and heavy rainfall on these disastrous events.
Landslides typically occur as a result of prolonged and intense rainfall, often accompanied by thunderstorms. In recent years, there has been a decrease in overall rainy season precipitation, with rising temperatures during the summer. Additionally, the winter season has shortened, while irregular seasonal variations and an increasing frequency of thunderstorms have been observed in multiple regions. These changes in weather patterns, accompanied by rising temperatures, contribute to the heightened risk of landslides.
The consequences of landslides extend beyond environmental damage. Critical local infrastructure, including roads, culverts, and bridges, suffer from the harsh weather conditions. The agricultural sector faces a decline in output, leading to economic losses and livestock fatalities, especially in the Khagrachari region. The destruction of infrastructure hampers communication, disrupts crop sales, and hinders access to essential services such as healthcare and education, further impacting the local economy.
The combination of climate change and capitalism has also resulted in water scarcity in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, leading to the migration of Indigenous Peoples. This issue has raised concerns among local officials and non-governmental organizations, as it has the potential to trigger unrest in the area.
Over the past decade, residents of Bandarban Sadar, Lama, Khagrachari, Lakkhichori, and Naniarchar have witnessed a loss of livelihood. Rising costs for seeds and fertilizers have put financial strain on the community. The residents of Rangamati Sadar have expressed their worries about the increasing heat, business closures, and a general decline in income.
Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves implementing effective land-use practices, adapting infrastructure to withstand extreme weather conditions, and supporting the agricultural sector to enhance resilience.
Moreover, sustainable water management strategies and efforts to combat climate change are crucial to mitigate the effects on the environment and the livelihoods of the local communities.
Climate change response through Chittagong Hill Tracts
Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh are actively responding to the climate challenges, utilizing a combination of traditional wisdom, innovative initiatives, and collaborative partnerships.
One significant approach embraced by Indigenous communities is the adaptation of their traditional practices to the changing climate. They are modifying agricultural techniques to align with shifting rainfall patterns and diversifying their livelihoods to reduce dependence on a single income source. Furthermore, Indigenous groups are working together to preserve and restore forests and wetlands, recognizing their role as agents of change.
Collaboration lies at the heart of Indigenous climate action in Bangladesh. Indigenous organizations and communities have formed alliances with NGOs, government agencies, and other stakeholders to develop and implement climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. The Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum for Climate Change and Biodiversity (BIPFCCB) serves as a vital network, advocating for Indigenous perspectives in climate policy and driving community-led initiatives.
Indigenous Peoples play an essential role in raising awareness and advocating for climate action. The Hill Women's Federation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, for example, runs impactful campaigns to increase understanding of climate change and its effects on Indigenous communities. In other words, they actively strive for the inclusion of Indigenous women's voices in climate policy and decision-making processes.
All in all, Indigenous communities in Bangladesh are at the forefront of climate resilience, employing a holistic and diverse approach. By combining ancestral knowledge with innovative collaborations, they adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, ensuring the preservation of their cultural heritage and the well-being of their communities.