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FEATURE STORY December 7, 2021

South Asia Builds Climate Resilience, With Steadfast Support from IDA


Bhutan’s constitution requires that 60% of this hilltop nation be forest cover. Featured in this picture is Bhutan’s Punakha valley, typically a riot of color with verdant rice fields, golden monasteries, and vibrant flowers. The hilltop nation is carbon negative and aims to remain carbon neutral.

Credit: Adam Singer, Flickr

Across South Asia, IDA and the World Bank have boosted efforts to build climate resilience and adaptation, doubling lending over the past five years to $2.1 billion in 2021.

“Whenever I hear of a new shelter being built or an existing one being repaired, I know there is still hope for our villages and for our families,” confesses Hasina Begum, Headmistress of a primary school in Bangladesh’s Barguna district, situated along the highly vulnerable 580 kilometers of coastline slammed unrelentingly with floods, tidal surges, and salinity each year. These result in an estimated average annual loss of around $3 billion or one-to-two percent of the nation’s GDP. 

Hasina’s community is one of the beneficiaries of the Coastal Embankment Improvement Project (CEIP-1) and the  Multipurpose Disaster Shelter Project (MDSP) worth $750 million, with the latter being the single largest program for disaster shelters in Bangladesh. Both these projects are financed by the International Development Association (IDA)—the World Bank’s fund that offers low-interest loans and grants to the world’s poorest countries. Thanks to a new repertoire of tools from the MDSP in the fight against tidal flooding and storm surges—namely cyclone shelters; polder systems or the strengthening of areas of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea; nature-based solutions; and early warning systems—the region has witnessed a 100-fold reduction in cyclone casualties. An estimated 333,000 citizens now have greater protection from climate disasters and 424,000 citizens have access to shelters in this nation of more than 166 million people, often the face of global climate change. 

Across South Asia, IDA and the World Bank have boosted such efforts to build climate resilience and adaptation, doubling lending over the past five years to $2.1 billion in 2021. The South Asia Climate Roadmap lays out concrete steps as to how the World Bank will accelerate transitions in the critical areas of increasing incomes, reducing emissions, and building resilience in a rapidly warming region. 

Roughly 2000 km away from Bangladesh in the Jashmoro district of Sindh, Pakistan, a historically water- stressed province, Allah Dino faces a different threat related to water’s wrath. Dino’s village has faced crippling droughts since 2015 and when it rains, it pours—literally—causing floods and destruction.  “Water is our best friend and also our worst enemy,” muses Dino, seated by his well.

To lessen the impact of unpredictable rains in the village, a small recharge dam was built just in time for monsoon rains with funding from the World Bank’s IDA-financed Sindh Resilience Project, replenishing wells during monsoons and guaranteeing a steady supply of water for small scale arid farming and livestock rearing. Pakistan’s partnership with the World Bank in enhancing climate resilience has reached a high water mark with the Pakistan Hydromet and Climate Services Project, another IDA project geared toward providing the nation with more reliable and timely weather forecasting to strengthen disaster risk management efforts.


Sheikh Abdul Hamid, a farmer from the Bagerhat district of Bangladesh, proudly looks at the gourds cultivated through the 200-year-old practice of floating bed agriculture. Large swathes of land in the country are under water rendering the ground useless for farming, and this historical practice provides respite to farmers like Hamid. 

Credit: Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan, the World Bank Group

Climate: South Asia’s Great Challenge or Carpe Diem!

South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate disasters. The World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal and the IMF Climate Change Dashboard show that South Asia’s climate vulnerability index is among the highest in the world.

Data source: IMF Climate Change Dashboard, Feyen et al. (2020) and World Bank calculations using a sample of 187 countries in 2020. Figure taken from the World Bank’s “Addressing climate change in South Asia through carbon taxing” blog.

“What drives climate action in South Asian countries is a recognition of the economic and social benefits of taking action now, rather than waiting,” explains John Roome, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Director for South Asia. “COVID-19 has turned nations upside down, yet it has also given countries an opportunity to change course. By accelerating climate adaptation, we can save lives and build back our economies better to avoid future health and climate disasters across South Asia.” 

Take the Maldives—this lowest lying nation in the world risks sinking, with sea levels projected to rise within the range of 10-100 centimeters by the year 2100. The government has announced a bold net zero target of 2030, and IDA- supported ASPIRE and ARISE projects have already helped the nation mobilize $9.3 million in private investments for solar power. The goal is to reduce expenditure on imports of fossil fuels, lower the costs of utilities for locals, and subsequently free up government funds to invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts to help the country stay afloat.

While the Maldives calms its seas, Nepal has its eyes set on its trees, having lost nearly a quarter of its forest cover—equivalent to the size of the nation of Qatar—between 1990 and 2005.  The nation has since then increased forest cover from 25% to 45% (including shrubland). The World Bank-financed Emission Reductions Payment Agreement  and Forests for Prosperity Project are providing further impetus to protect Nepal’s forests in partnership with the government of Nepal and local communities.

Nepal's bold approach to protecting its forests will help counter climate-related disasters. Credit: Ankulibaba, Shutterstock

To ensure that forests remain a priority, Nepal has creatively included forest cover as one of the indicators in the motor vehicle tax revenue sharing formula between local and provincial governments, supported by the IDA-funded Programmatic Fiscal and Public Financial Management project. The larger the forest area, the more revenue will be allocated. This strategic give and take incentivizes local governments to keep more forest area to counter greenhouse effects and climate related disasters while ensuring environmental sustainability.

Neighboring Bhutan enjoys a robust forest area of 72.5%, is carbon negative, and aims to remain carbon neutral. However, this hilltop nation is perched at a precarious cusp of climate change and public health hazards: it is home to nearly 2,700 glacial lakes, 17 of which are known to cause public havoc via bursts and flooding, as well as a roosting ground for migratory birds that contribute to avian flu and other disease outbreaks.

Failure to integrate environmental resilience and improve preparedness for public health emergencies and extreme weather events will expose the country to catastrophic risks and weakened economic growth. Recognizing this, the Royal Government of Bhutan has teamed up with the World Bank to become one of the first nations to enhance its technical and institutional capacity to manage the risk of climate change and natural disasters, including disease outbreaks with the Bhutan Development Policy Financing with Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option operations, taking the nation toward green, resilient, and inclusive development.

The World Bank has brought a combined investment of $776.7 million into the development of Bangladesh’s coastal zone leading to a 100-fold reduction in cycle related deaths and increasing protection from tidal flooding and storm surges to more than 333,000 people. Credit: Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan, the World Bank Group

As the IDA and the World Bank partner with South Asian nations to help them adapt, protect, and fortify precious natural resources and combat climate change, there’ll be more citizens like Hasina who enjoy hope for a brighter future. Like Chaya Rani, elected local government official from Dacope Upazila, one of the most climate-affected areas in Bangladesh, and beneficiary of the MDSP project. As a local leader, Rani uses one of the very 1,500 cyclone shelters turned into classrooms for over 175,000 children across Bangladesh to ensure that other children in the village get an education.

Using shelters that were built to protect people from extreme weather as classrooms to educate children? Now that’s paying it climate-forward.