Bangladesh: Climate refugees’ green wall offsets carbon emissions

Hasan Gharami and his community are protecting mangroves from illegal loggers in Bangladesh
Hasan Gharami and his community are protecting mangroves from illegal loggers in Bangladesh. Photo: Kawser Ahmed/UNDP Bangladesh

Five years ago, a cyclone ripped through Bangladesh’s coast killing more than 3,000 people and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

“We woke up in terror after the roof of my house was swept away, and moments later we were chest deep in the rising waters,” says Hasan Gharami, 33, who fled to high ground with his family to survive.

Highlights

  • Displaced communities tend to mangrove plantations along the coast to improve natural protection against climate change-related storms, tidal surges and other disasters.
  • The mangroves will offset more than 610,000 tons of carbon over the five years of the project’s life.
  • Settlement and livelihoods training were provided for over 85,000 people displaced by extreme weather events linked to climate change.

That night more than a million people lost their homes, with many families living on spits of high land to this day, crowded into shanties built from salvaged debris.

“We couldn’t return to our land. We lost our boats, we lost our cattle, and our land was flooded with salt water – too saline even to drink, let alone grow crops,” says Hassan.

Gharami’s is one of 20,000 displaced families who have been settled on barren government land since 2009, through a UNDP innovation that recently won the international Earthcare Award for pioneering a new approach to climate change adaptations that offsets global carbon emissions.

The Community Based Coastal Afforestation project has allotted Gharami, and many others, a plot of land where he is farming fish and growing fruit, in exchange for a community pledge to protect coastal forests that act as a ‘green wall’ against the onslaught of cyclones and tidal surges.

“The challenge was to create a sustainable innovation that was customised to local needs and drew from local knowledge,” says Stefan Priesner, Country Director of UNDP Bangladesh. “Through this project, we are preserving eco-habitats, lifting people out of chronic poverty, and achieving climate change adaptations that are sustainable in the long run.”

Over five years, the mangroves that Gharami and his community are protecting from illegal loggers will offset more than 610,000 tons of carbon: the equivalent of annual emissions by roughly two million Bangladeshis.

“All of the families here understand that if we protect these mangroves at the edge of the water, villages for miles around will be protected when the next cyclone hits,” says Gharami.

“Two years ago, we were living on relief distributed by NGOs,” says Shahina Akhter who has been the sole breadwinner in her family ever since her husband fell ill. “Now I am earning about $400 from the fruits and vegetables, and maybe this year we will earn much more from the fish.”

With the ‘green wall’ of mangroves preventing gradually accreting land and preventing river erosion, Gharami and his community finally enjoy a security that has eluded them for generations.

By Mahtab Haider