Building Resilience of the Coastal Population of Bangladesh to Climate Change

June 26, 2013

  • Situated at the confluence of three great trans-Himalayan rivers –the Ganges, the Brahmaputra or Jamuna, and the Meghna (GBM), Bangladesh boasts rich water resources.
  • However, Bangladesh’s populations face considerable development challenges posed by its low and flat topography and vulnerability to floods, torrential rains, erosion, and severe cyclonic storms and tidal surges especially in the coastal zones which will be exacerbated by climate change.
  • To increase the resilience of the coastal population to flooding and other natural disasters, the World Bank is helping upgrade the country’s embankment systems.

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress toward achieving poverty reduction and sustaining economic growth over the last decade. However, the country’s vulnerability to floods and natural disasters greatly impacts the coastal population and the poor, affecting the development of those communities. To help improve Bangladesh’s resilience to flooding and natural disasters, the Word Bank is providing $400 million in support to the Bangladesh Water Development Board to increase the resilience of the coastal population to tidal flooding and natural disasters. The project is funded through an IDA credit and a Grant from the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.  

Bangladesh has long sought to protect its coastal population from natural hazard risks. Continuous investment since the 1960s has resulted in the establishment of 2,130 cyclone shelters, 139 polders (an area of low-lying land that has been reclaimed from a body of water and is protected by dikes), 2,900 water control structures for drainage, and improved early warning systems.

" Cyclonic storm surges are deadly in the Bay of Bengal. This project is crucial to increasing the resilience of coastal population by protecting the area from tidal flooding, salinity intrusion and storm surges. "

Sarafat Khan

Project Coordinator, Bangladesh Water Development Board

The construction of polders along the entire coastal belt provided protection to the people and their agricultural land. Today 1.2 million hectares of land is utilized for agricultural purposes within the embankment system. This represents almost 15% of Bangladesh’s total arable land.

However, the vulnerability of the coastal population is on the rise due to climate change. Climate variability will accentuate the risks facing coastal Bangladesh.

The risks span:

-Cyclones and storm surges
-River bank erosion and vulnerability of islands and chars
-Sea level rise
-Saline intrusion, and coastal erosion.

Re-focusing the strategy

With these challenges in mind, Bangladesh’s Government is refocusing its strategy in coastal areas from one that only protects against high tides to one that provide protection against frequent storm surges. "The embankments are vital for the livelihood of the population living in the coastal areas. Over time, the embankments have been weakened and eroded; this project will upgrade them systemically," said Masood Ahmad, World Bank Lead Water Specialist.

Investing in adaptation measures today will provide huge savings in the future by minimizing the damages associated with extreme weather events.

Economic and Social Benefits

Improvement of polders will enhance the resilience of coastal areas to cyclones, tidal and flood inundations, and salinity intrusion. This in turn will enhance the people’s livelihoods through increased agricultural production during normal weather and reduced loss of life, assets, crops and livestock in the event of a disaster.

-The Project will help reduce poverty and stimulate economic development by facilitating the growth of farm and non-farm activities.
-The Project will provide direct protection to the 760,000 people living within the polder boundaries.
-The Project is expected to benefit 8.5 million people living in 6 coastal districts (Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira, Barguna, Patuakhali and Pirojpur) through agriculture development, employment and food security.

The project is expected to increase confidence among the coastal population by securing agriculture, fishery, forestry and local industries, while generating employment for the poor, disadvantaged women and other vulnerable groups.

"This project is an essential step forward in building the resilience of the coastal population of Bangladesh to climate change," said Maria Sarraf, World Bank's project leader.