Adaptation in Bangladesh: closer look at NAPA

by nathan thanki (Nov 2010)

Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation, if not our species. The six billion and counting human inhabitants of the earth will soon be coming up against the full force of this change and the question they will ask is not ‘how can we stop it?’ but rather ‘how can we survive it?’ How can societies adapt themselves in order to be able to limit the negative impacts climate change will have on them? Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ‘less developed’ countries of the world have begun planning for the necessary adaptations. This plan comes in the form of a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA). In this paper I will be focusing on the NAPA of Bangladesh and more specifically on the one project therein which has received funding and has begun to be implemented.

Bangladesh’s situation

Bangladesh is an amazingly diverse and condensed country. In an area of only 13 million ha live close to 150 million people (Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). A defining feature of the country is water. As well as being a delta for the Ganges to flow into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has 230 rivers dissecting it in all directions. (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 18) It is also located in such a way as to allow for almost all natural disasters to strike it. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, famine, cyclones, tidal waves; Bangladesh is only missing volcanoes from its Hollywood horror story. The diversity stretches into the scope of life too; in the Sundarbans and other wetlands, there are many varieties of plants and animals (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 22). The Sundarbans are essential in the protection of Bangladesh’s coast from the brunt of the Bay of Bengal, and the surges it throws forth. By the year 2030, the population is estimated to inflate to 186 million, “61 million in the urban and the rest 125 million the rural areas” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 19). Such an increase on its own would present problems; if current climate forecasts are accurate the problems are compounded. “It is well recognized both in the scientific and negotiating community that Bangladesh would be one of the most adversely affected country to climate change. Low economic strength, inadequate infrastructure, low level of social development, lack of institutional capacity, and a higher dependency on the natural resource base make the country more vulnerable to climate stimuli (including both variability as well as extreme events)” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 16). One positive, if it can be considered that, is that Bangladesh has experience in adapting to hostile conditions. “In Bangladesh floods, cyclonic storm surges are major killers as well as cause of most direct and indirect damage. In more recent years over 1970- 98, cyclonic storms and floods killed more than 4.6 hundred thousand and 41 thousand peoples respectively. It affected another nearly 45 million and 356 million peoples respectively ” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 23). “The country has set a pioneer example in disaster management during the cyclones of 1991 and 1997. The role of the government and non-government organizations during the pre and post-disaster periods helped lower the number of deaths and damage” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 37). As a nation, Bangladesh is heavily dependent on agriculture for employment and attempts towards self-sufficiency. Most other employment sectors depend on agriculture, in one way or another, for their existence (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 19). Therefore any changes affecting agriculture will have huge knock on effects for the country.

The predicted impacts

Unfortunately the future does not appear to be rosy for Bangladesh, as if the present climate wasn’t difficult enough to live in. The impacts of climate change are not only numerous, but also interconnected. “Many anticipated adverse impacts of climate change including sea level rise, higher temperatures, enhanced monsoon precipitation and run-off, potentially reduced dry season precipitation, and an increase in cyclone intensity would in fact aggravate many of the existing stresses that already pose a serious impediment to the process economic development of Bangladesh. The climate change policy, particularly adaptation thus becomes a part and parcel of the development policies of the country” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 24). The people of Bangladesh have already seen the impacts of climate change in their lifetimes. “Local people felt that the climate had indeed changed, mostly for the worse, over the years. Fogs in places where these were never heard of during summer time, drought, salinity intrusion far from the sea, floods including flash flood, and cyclone and storm surges as major problems they are facing in different parts of the country . Problems related to floods include water logging and drainage congestion, early and untimely floods, localized inundation and flash floods. Salinity intrusion due to reduction of freshwater flow from upstream, salinization of groundwater and fluctuation of soil salinity are major concern. Continuous and prolonged droughts, extreme temperature and delayed rainfall are major problems that agriculture sector is facing. Storms, cyclones and tidal surges appear to have increased in the coastal areas” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 33).

Considering the size of its population, and the size of its land, Bangladesh will no doubt experience difficulty in making sure everybody is fed. On top of a growing population though, is a decreasing area of agricultural land. Mostly, it is being lost to urbanization, at a rate of about 100,000 ha per annum (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 21). This loss of agricultural land would lead to a decrease of food production, necessarily leading to an increase in imports – thus undermining food self-sufficiency and the country’s economy. Food production is something that will be strongly affected by a changing climate. “A rise in temperature would cause significant decrease in production, some 28 % and 68 % for rice and wheat, respectively. Moreover, doubling of atmospheric concentration of CO2 in combination with a similar rise in temperature would result into an overall 20 % rise in rice production and 31 % decline in wheat production” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 31).

Increased temperatures, summer precipitation, humidity and radiation will also increase the prevalence of pests and diseases, which are likely to spread rapidly due to Bangladesh’s poor public health system (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 33). Added to the lack of food security, many more preventable deaths are likely to occur; the body needs strength from food in order to survive disease (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 34). Another major problem is that of water salinity. Gradually, the river delta’s are becoming more salty, creating havoc with the organisms living in and around the rivers. The problem affects humans as potable water shortages are becoming a more common occurrence, especially when compounded by drought. Changes in river morphology and sedimentation at the delta means that there is more water logging upstream, which is further compounded by a poor system of drainage in the country. Again, this can lead to increased chance of disease (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 29). As was mentioned, Bangladesh is a country of water. Undeniably, any water-related climate changes will be hugely influential on how the country must adapt. “The effects of increased flooding resulting from climate change will be the greatest problem faced by Bangladesh as both coastal (from sea and river water), and inland flooding (river/rain water) are expected to increase. In addition, changes of the riverbed level due to sedimentation and changes in morphological processes due to seasonal variation of water level and flow are also critical for Bangladesh”. (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 28). Despite already being bombarded by monsoons, and having adapted quite well to them, Bangladesh cannot but be negatively affected by an increase in their occurrence. It is estimated that monsoons will increase in frequency due to a deepening low pressure system (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 27). The country needs more than ever to be sure of coastal protection offered by forests like those found in the Sundarbans. However; due to increasing soil salinity, freshwater loving plant species in these wetlands would be affected adversely. “Eventually the species offering dense canopy cover would be replaced by non-woody shrubs and bushes, while the overall forest productivity would decline significantly. The degradation of forest quality might cause a gradual depletion of rich diversity of the forest flora and fauna of the Sundarbans ecosystem” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 32). Bangladesh’s tumultuous relationship with the ocean looks set to continue in the future as climate change accelerates and widespread impacts begin to be felt. “Future evolution of the major deltas in monsoonal Asia depends on changes in ocean processes and river sediment flux. Coastal erosion of the major deltas will be caused by sea-level rise, intensifying extreme events (e.g., storm surge) due to climate change and excessive pumping of groundwater for irrigation and reservoir construction upstream” (Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Fighting back; proposed responses under NAPA

Having identified natural disasters, industrial pollution, health and sanitation, deforestation, desertification, changes in climatic condition, salinity and deteriorating habitat of flora and fauna as the main environmental problems (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 35), the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) then had to identify a plan of action to deal with these issues. This is their National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA); ‘a set of actions complementary to national goals and objectives of other multilateral environmental agreements to which Bangladesh is one of the signatories’ (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 36).

Bangladesh’s NAPA, prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) can be considered holistic in that it aims at a countrywide programme, co-ordinating with pre-existing programmes and following the goals of sustainable development, which considers as many levels of community as possible. These included member of government, local and national, members of the scientific and academic communities, teachers, lawyers, doctors, ethnic groups, the media and NGOs (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 42). It is important that any adaptation action is co-ordinated well with ongoing projects, so that resources are not wasted (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 37). Bangladesh, as mentioned previously, has a good track record with responding to natural disasters. The priority is not to avoid damage entirely, but rather to minimize damage and especially to minimize damage to the most vulnerable people in society. As two thirds of the work force, 27 million people, are engaged in agricultural work which is closely tied in to water resources, it makes sense to prioritize them (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 40). Within the NAPA, MOEF set out fifteen measures – eight ‘intervention type’ and seven ‘facilitating type’ – in response to the impacts of climate change. They are outlined below.

Intervention Type Measures

1. Promoting adaptation to coastal crop agriculture to combat increased salinity. 2. Adaptation to agriculture systems in areas prone to enhanced flash flooding in North East and Central Region. 3. Promoting adaptation to coastal fisheries through culture of salt tolerant fish special in coastal areas of Bangladesh. 4. Adaptation to fisheries in areas prone to enhanced flooding in North East and Central Region through adaptive and diversified fish culture practices. 5. Construction of flood shelter, and information and assistance centre to cope with enhanced recurrent floods in major floodplains. 6. Reduction of climate change hazards through coastal afforestation with community participation. 7. Providing drinking water to coastal communities to combat enhanced salinity due to sea level rise. 8. Enhancing resilience of urban infrastructure and industries to impacts of climate change including floods and cyclone.

Facilitating Type Measures

1. Capacity building for integrating Climate Change in planning, designing of infrastructure, conflict management and landwater zoning for water management institutions. 2. Exploring options for insurance to cope with enhanced climatic disasters. 3. Mainstreaming adaptation to climate change into policies and programmes in different sectors (focusing on disaster management, water, agriculture, health and industry). 4. Inclusion of climate change issues in curriculum at secondary and tertiary educational institution. 5. Climate change and adaptation information dissemination to vulnerable community for emergency preparedness measures and awareness raising on enhanced climatic disasters. 6. Promotion of research on drought, flood and saline tolerant varieties of crops to facilitate adaptation in future. 7. Development of eco-specific adaptive knowledge (including indigenous knowledge) on adaptation to climate variability to enhance adaptive capacity for future climate change. (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 39)

In addition to outlining these proposals of adaptation, MOEF also identified some possible barriers to their implementation. The main barrier identified was that of awareness. The population, although acutely aware of the fact that climate has been changing over the course of their lifetimes, is uneducated to the full seriousness in the long term of the environmental problems. They are also ignorant of possible coping strategies. Another barrier exists in the country’s ‘lack of adequate tools, knowledge and methodologies to provide guidance and advice to the people making their decisions’ (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 37).

Community Adaptation through Coastal Afforestation

Of the fifteen projects, so far only one has received funding. The exact title has been modified slightly, from the above ‘Reduction of climate change hazards through coastal afforestation with community participation’ to ‘Community based adaptation to climate change through coastal afforestation’. This project was given CEO approval in December 2008, and is estimated to be completed by February 2013 with the 5.5 million USD funding coming from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) (Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation). Because the issue of rising seas is complicated, involving the interactions of many human and eco systems within the overall parameters of coastal zone dynamics, the NAPA has suggested ‘an integrated systems approach acceptable to the communities at large’ (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 38). ‘The goal of the project is to reduce vulnerability of coastal communities to impacts of climate change and climate variability. The Objective of this project is to improve the resilience of coastal populations, settlements, and ecosystems in areas exposed to coastal hazards.’ (Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation in Bangladesh). The project is multi-dimensional and works with other projects, for example in considering future climate change risks when implementing coastal buffer zone measures, improving the exchange of information between climate monitoring, forecasting, early warning systems and coastal communities. The expected outputs range from integrating climate change risks into development planning and coastal zoning regulation to diversifying livelihoods to finding more secure sources of water in communities where saline intrusion is a problem (Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation). The main aspect of this project is the creation of a shelterbelt along the coast. This is hoped to limit the effects of tidal surges from tsunami and cyclones and rising sea levels. “The presence of forest plays a vital role in stabilizing shorelines and providing protection against cyclones and other extreme events. The coastal areas of Bangladesh especially the Meghna estuary are exposed to cyclone and tidal surges. A thick forest belt is required to act as a buffer zone in order to provide protection to these vulnerable coastal areas. The involvement of the local people, especially the women will enhance their adaptive capacities and livelihoods in general. The project is set to provide synergy with the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, where afforestation is one of the critical working components” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 43). Creating more forest through afforestation also enhances Bangladesh’s ability to sink carbon. The population will have to be trained in order to take care of the plants in nursery, and then maintain them as part of new coastal forest by monitoring and reporting their status. The project will not only generate local employment and increase alternate incomes but also develop knowledge and awareness of climate issues. The forest department, in conjuncture with various NGO’s will implement the programme (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 43). MOEF also recognises the limitations of the project. “No adaptation measure can entirely eradicate the adverse impacts of climate change and climatic variability. A part of the cost, however small, has to be borne by the society. To strengthen the capacity to withstand such losses, insurance mechanisms need to be strengthened and sensitized to the future needs.” (Ministry of Environment and Forest, 38).


Although Bangladesh has a difficult task to stay above water, literally, that is not to say that it is impossible. The Government and people have already shown adaptability to climate, regularly dealing with the adverse affects of natural phenomenon, and so are better placed than many other LDCs to adapt to the new world being created by climate change. From the number of proposed projects, it is clear that the country has the ideas and awareness necessary to adapt. However, funding and implementation are issues. So far only one project has been granted funding. While creating a coastal buffer is essential in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change, there are many other areas that need to be addressed simultaneously. This is not a bit-piece project; it needs to be holistic in theory and in practice.


Bangladesh. Ministry of Environment and Forest. National Adaptation Programme of Action. Dhaka, 2005

Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation in Bangladesh. United Nations Development Programme. 17 October 2010. <>

Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation. 23 July 2009. Adaptation Learning Mechanism. 17 October 2010. <>

Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 17 October 2010. <>

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