Charting a course among the long, narrow fishing boats that plied back and forth across the river, the ferryboat pulled in to Chila market. Election posters fluttered in the breeze. A young man pedaled past on a rickshaw, his distorted voice blaring out campaign slogans from a large megaphone. Flashes of electric blue caught the eye where women, men, boys and girls drag-netted the river banks in search of shrimp. A day and a half’s drive, river-ferry crossing and boat-ride to the south-west of the capital, Dhaka, Chila is one of the last villages on Bangladesh’s mainland before you reach the Sundarbans – the world’s largest area of mangrove forest and an essential protective barrier against floods and storm surges which climate change is only expected to exacerbate. We had come to see for ourselves how local communities are adapting to some of the changes that climate change is expected to bring.
This week in Dhaka, over 350 people from 60 countries met to exchange knowledge on ways to meet the challenge of scaling up community-based approaches to climate change adaptation. This was the fifth such international conference, organized by the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and supported by 37 other international NGOs and bilateral and multilateral development agencies including the World Bank. In her inaugural address, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, called upon participants to come together in a spirit of mutual learning, not just from each other, but also from the communities that a number of us visited during three days of field visits.
The trip I joined to Chila took place on an historic day. Over the holiday weekend marking this young country’s 40th anniversary since independence, local elections were also taking place for the first time in 12 years. On the way to the ferry, our bus driver took us on an unannounced detour so he could go and vote. Once in Chila, we talked with community members at the local market and in their homes, often precariously balanced between shrimp ponds, stretching as far as the eye can see, where not so long ago there were only rice paddies.