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Bangladesh’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) Essay

Due to Bangladesh’s extreme vulnerability to climate related impacts, adaptation is necessary for the political and economic survival of the country (Ali, 1999; Sajjaduzzaman et al, 2005). Since developing countries have been historically less responsible for the emissions that cause climate change, it is the responsibility of developed countries to finance the cost of adaptation in addition to development aid commitments (Article 4.4 UNFCCC, 1992). To this end, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides support for adaptation under a global governance system, and has made National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPA) a requirement for all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in order to provide the space for participatory approaches and community-level inputs in adaptation policy-making (Ayers et al, 2009).

Here, the rationale is that the impacts of climate change are experienced locally, so adaptation programs need to be formulated and implemented at the local level (Ayers 2011). The Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) affirms that “… early engagement of people at the grassroots level will be important in ensuring successful implementation of NAPA initiatives” (LEG, 2002:2).

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), together with the United Nations Development Program and the Global Environment Facility, has provided funding for its highest priority NAPA project: a $10.8 billion Coastal Afforestation project (20102013) which aims to reduce “… climate change hazards through coastal afforestation with community participation” in the coastal districts of Barguna and Patuakhali (Western Region), Chittagong (Eastern Region), Bhola, and Noakhali (Central Region) (Figure 1) (Ministry Of Environment and Forestry (MOEF, 2005:24).

Bangladesh is  one of the first countries to implement a community-based adaptation (CBA) project as part of its NAPA, and intends on using this project as a template for other vulnerable regions in Bangladesh (MOEF, 2008). Before this project is used as a template, it is important to analyse its effectiveness. This report will explore the role of the UNFCCC’s NAPA scheme in supporting or hindering a participatory approach to adaptation in Bangladesh’s CBA coastal afforestation project. Specifically, the focus question will be whether the coastal afforestation project is effective in facilitating adaptation at the grassroots level.


The Bangladesh NAPA identifies coastal communities as being the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and proposes 15 projects that would meet their “urgent and immediate adaptation needs” (MOEF, 2005:4). The vulnerability of coastal communities in Bangladesh is also emphasised in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001). Coastal zones are the highest priority sector in the NAPA due to the importance of the economic resources being affected, the urgency, severity and certainty of severe climate change impacts, and because coastal areas comprise 32% of the countries land space, with over 35 million people living just 1m above sea level (Agrawala et al, 2003).

Bangladesh’s flat deltaic topography with low elevation and its geographical location that sits at the intersection of three river basins puts it at risk of flooding and tidal inundation, droughts, tropical cyclones and storm surges (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011). In addition, Bangladesh is exposed to impacts from the melting of the Indian and Himalayan glaciers (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011).

These factors combined mean that every area in Bangladesh is prone to four types of floods- flash floods, riverine floods, rain floods, and storm surge floods (Figure 2) (Mirza, 2002). Furthermore, all sectors and regions of Bangladesh are vulnerable the impacts of climate change (Figure 3) (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011). The sites for the coastal afforestation project were selected based on their extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts (MOEF 2008).


Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social and economic systems in response to the impacts of climate change (IPCC, 2007). Whereas adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to the impacts of climate change- to moderate potential damages, take advantage of opportunities, or cope with the consequences, resilience goes further to include the degree the system is capable of selforganisation, and able to learn and adapt to changes (Folke, 2006; Jerneck and Olsen, 2008; Magis, 2010). For this reason, a resilience framework with the following criteria will be used to analyse the effectiveness of the coastal afforestation project:

Diversity in adaptation approaches involving a mix of technological, ecosystem based, governance and behavioural adaptation approaches.

Effective governance and institutions that are seen as legitimate are critical for delivering sustainable adaptation outcomes (Bahadur et al, 2013). This is because they can facilitate learning and “experiment in safe ways, monitor results, update assessments, and modify policy as new knowledge is gained” (Carpenter et al, 2001:778).

Preparedness and planning requires relevant and timely information, and integration with existing institutional processes (Bahadur et al, 2013).

An acceptance of uncertainty and change at all scales- individual, organisational and systemic- to adjust adaptation actions to changing circumstances so that co-benefits can be realised and perverse outcomes avoided (Bahadur et al, 2013).

The level of community involvement and ownership is essential as to ensuring projects reach the most vulnerable (Bahadur et al, 2013). This is a key factor in reducing vulnerability to climate change under CBA (Pouliotte et al, 2009).

Mainstreaming climate change into development planning to achieve climate resilient development is necessary for reducing vulnerability to climate change (Bahadur et al, 2013:55).


The NAPA project demonstrates systems thinking by a willingness to learn from past policy mistakes. The Forestry Department has adopted a more participatory approach to forest management due to criticisms that past projects resulted in overharvesting and overgrazing due to a lack of community ownership over coastal mangroves (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011). Since the1980s, rising poverty and population growth combined with an absence of land-use policies has resulted in a loss of over 40,000 ha of forests along the eastern and central coasts of Bangladesh due to clearing for agriculture, shrimp farming, salt pan and settlements (MOEF, 2008).

The project document reviews these past issues and has put in place measures for livelihood diversification so that natural resources are not exploited (MOEF, 2008). The project aims to diversify livelihoods through its “triple f” model of “Forest, Fish, and Food”, which integrates aquaculture and food production within the afforested and reforested plantations so that community income sources are diversified (Sovacool et al, 2012). The FFF model currently focuses on drought and flood resistance fruit and vegetable crops. Through a combination of agriculture, fishing and producing palm oil the project has so far provided an income stream for 1,150 families and community training on nursery and plantation management to 12,200 coastal people (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011).

However, as one local states, “we have developed saline tolerant crop varieties but the concentration of salinity is going up. We cant keep on producing crops when land is flooded and water salty… Adaptation has its limits” (Rawlani and Sovacool, 2011: 860). Evidently, the FFF model fails to encourage a diversity of livelihood options, and thus equip locals with the adaptive capacity to adjust adaptation actions to changing circumstances. By contrast, an NGO in the village of Subarnabad- the Institute of Development Education for Advancement of Landless (IDEAL)- has implemented a CBA project that allows the community to choose their own livelihood options (Figure 5), thus giving them full ownership and providing a range of options so that they can adjust their income streams if circumstances change.

The climate impacts emphasised by the NAPA project correlate with community responses recorded in an independent household survey in one of the target sites, the Noakhali village (Figure 4) (Ayers, 2011). However, the adaptation options listed by respondents focused on addressing systemic issues like lack of access to  government services and NGOs, high poverty rates, low social mobilisation, low literacy rates and insecure land tenure (Ayers, 2011). Coastal afforestation was never raised as a priority adaptation option (Ayers, 2011). The project has sponsored 6000ha of community-based mangrove plantations, 500ha of non-mangrove mount plantations, 220ha of dykes, 1000km of embankments, and building sea gates to prevent salt water intrusion into rivers (Sovacool et al, 2012).

These initiatives reveal the project’s focus on reducing the physical exposure to climate change impacts (Ayers, 2011). However, respondents in Noakhali framed risk in terms of addressing development issues that cause vulnerabilities to climate change impacts in the first place (Ayers, 2011). One example is the project’s introduction of early warning information and disaster preparedness systems in 20 of the most vulnerable towns (MOEF, 2008). In discussions about the risks of cyclones and storms with fishermen in Noakhali, they revealed that information provision was not the problem- radios had already been provided by a local Red Crescent program, but financial pressure to pay back the loans meant that fisherman would ignore the bad weather warnings (Ayers, 2011).

Therefore the preferable adaptation option here would be putting in place a better micro-credit system. This case illustrates the importance of addressing the underlying issues that expose vulnerable groups to climate change impacts. It also shows that a lack of coordination between government and existing institutions can waste funding and exacerbate vulnerabilities. Therefore, community involvement in identifying vulnerabilities and adaptation responses is essential to building resilience on the ground.


A lack of community involvement and ownership over the implementation of the project can be attributed to the NAPA preparation process. The process involved consultation with local level stakeholders- representatives from local government, local NGOs, farmers and women- through regional consultation workshops (Ayers, 2011). However, power dynamics within communities meant that politically powerful stakeholders dominated the discussions to the exclusion of less powerful stakeholders- basically, the most vulnerable were not involved in the NAPA preparation process (Ayers, 2011). Furthermore, the participation of local stakeholders focused on prioritising pre-identified adaptation options (Ayers, 2011).

This ‘top down’ approach combined with the framing of ‘risks’ as climate change impacts rather than vulnerabilities explains why the adaptation options in the NAPA conflict with those prioritised by the targeted communities (Ayers, 2011). This is due to a global framework of adaptation that “… casts adaptation as a response to the ‘additional’ impacts of climate change”… “rather than the factors that make people vulnerable to these changes (which are often closely connected to existing development needs and problems)” (Ayers, 2011:63).

The LEG (2002) guidelines stress the importance of “bottom-up, participatory approaches” (2) to adaptation and the NAPA project emphasises “the participation of men and women at the grassroots- level”(MOEF, 2008:22), so what institutional approach is needed to meet these ends? Ayers et al (2009) suggest reframing the adaptation discourse under the UNFCCC in terms of vulnerability instead of impacts, as this would allow vulnerable communities to identify, prioritise and implement climate resilient development activities and thus operationalize CBA. CBA requires an engagement with local institutional structures-be it public, private or civil societyfrom the beginning of the NAPA development process- to ascertain which institutions or features of institutions are needed for climate resilient development in that particular context (Ayers et al, 2010). In practise, this means more coordination between the government of Bangladesh and local institutions to develop mechanisms for mainstreaming climate resilient development.

Opportunities for collaboration already exist in Bangladesh, but need to be harnessed. For example, the NGO IDEAL has successfully implemented CBA in the South-Western village of Subarnabad by providing training and technical support as well as access to loans and a savings bank to adopt new livelihoods strategies of their choosing to suit their situation (Pouliotte, 2009) (Figure 5). In turn, this has had a mobilising effect on the community, which can be seen in the strategies being employed without the help of the NGO- by learning from neighbours and building networks (Pouliotte, 2009).

The effect of this project in reducing vulnerabilities by diversifying livelihood options shows that climate change adaptation activities need to be built into community driven development programs. Another NGO in Bangladesh, The Arsenic Mitigation and Research Foundation (AMRF), has facilitated the establishment of ‘Village Committees’ made up of women in arsenic-affected  villages who collect 3 Dhakas from each resident per month and lobby local government for funding to not only operate and maintain the deep tube wells, but also encourage activities in other sectors like education, sanitation, and village infrastructure (Rammelt et al, 2011).

These committees have the funding, lobbying power, and legitimacy to potentially carry out climate resilience development programs as well. A barrier for LDCs to mainstreaming climate change into development planning is the funding issue of ‘additionality’. This is why deepening community involvement through community-based organisations- in collaboration with government- is the institutional approach needed to carry out climate resilient development.


Although the NAPA project in Bangladesh reflects community perceptions on the impacts of climate change, vulnerable communities were given little opportunity to identify and address the underlying development issues that cause vulnerability to such impacts (Ayers, 2011). This exposes the problem with facilitating CBA within the confines of impacts-based adaptation policy-making under the UNFCCC. Therefore a new framework is needed that defines adaptation more broadly; that addresses the drivers of vulnerability, and recognises that “development is risk management” (Commission on Climate Change and Development, 2009: 9).

Figure 1

Source: MOEF 2008:4

Figure 2

Source: Mirza et al, 2003:48

Figure 3

Source: Rawlani and Savacool, 2011:863

Figure 4

Source: Ayers, 2011:74

Figure 5

Source: Pouliotte et al, 2009:42

Reference list
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