Thursday, November 27, 2008

Women wear G8 masks - call for help

They may not have heard the term "climate change", but these women workers - including those who try to make a living from breaking bricks to garment workers - who turned up at a rally in Dhaka, know all too well how changing weather patterns have been affecting their lives and those of millions of others in Bangladesh.

They donned masks representing leaders of the world's top industrialised countries - the G8 - and chanted out slogans “Protect our agriculture, protect our country, protect our lives from the damaging effects of climate change”.

In the last few years Bangladesh has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate-related problems. But changing temperatures and patterns have meant that weather-related disasters have become less predictable and harder to manage. And that makes it harder for the poorest communities to prepare or respond to increased hazards.
The activity was the last of eight major events around the country, highlighting how climate changes have affecting individual communities living in different geographical locations.
The events were organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Bangladesh will eventually become one of the most vulnerable countries on earth because of the implications of climate change”, said climate change expert, Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, of the Centre for Global Change, one of the speakers at the Dhaka event.

“The magnitude of the problem is enormous. Not only for Bangladesh, but all the people affected by climate change, it’s a clear message: unless the world leaders decide to stop emissions now, many people around the world will become climate victims and climate refugees, this is unacceptable to us.

“The need for adaptation and adaptation financing is increasing day by day”, he warned.

climate rally in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, southwestern Bangladesh

Some of the indigenous women taking part in the rally and meeting

Indigenous (or adivashi) communities were among people from Bangladesh’s isolated south-eastern Chittagong Hill Tract Area took part in a mass meeting to voice their concerns about climate change and the impact its having on their native forest lands.

Nearly 1,000 people, mainly indigenous groups, took part in the activity, which included local cultural performances.

Local cultural performances were also on display in between the speeches
Some carried banners calling for indusrialised nations to open their borders so that poor and vulnerable communities adversely affected by climatic changes and forced to move from their lands – or climate refugees – could find alternative and safer locations for their families.

Others held banners calling on the world’s richest countries to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions and compensate poor nations like Bangladesh. They urged financial help to allow communities to protect themselves from the negative impacts caused by rising sea levels, including unpredictable weather patterns and flash flooding.

Marginalised indigenous villagers in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas say weather patterns have become unpredictable and flash flooding has increased in recent years, causing land erosion and damaging their crops livelihoods.

“People are already worried about climate change. It affects their livelihoods”, said Arun Kanti Chakma, executive director of the Assistance for the Livelihood of the Origins (ALO), one of the event organizers.

“Already cultivation is being affected, people are not getting good crop production because of irregular rainfall and sometimes very heavy rainfall, or no rain at all. Its become a big problem for us – and people here are already among the most marginalized.”

The climate change protest was organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month

It’s the latest in a series of large-scale campaign activities across Bangladesh to highlight how climate change is affecting individual communities.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Climate protests and travels

I've a unique opportunity to travel around large parts of Bangladesh right now to see communities involved in rallies and hold meetings about how climatic changes are affecting their lives. Today, I was in Mymensingh, northern Bangladesh. A lovely city with lots of old buildings and mainly trishaws, rather than cars or motorbikes.

The event was very interesting, attracting around 3,000 - most of the group members of indigenous communities

Living in forested areas - which are being affected by changing weather patterns - indigenous groups are among the first to feel the impact of climate change on their natural environment.

Another problem these groups face is land-grabbing by influential, politically connected groups and individuals. One of their demands is the protection of their customary lands.

The day before, I was in Khulna, in the south-west, which is often affected by floods - often as a result of water-logging.

These activists staged a drama highlighting environmental problems in the area, particularly in the Sunderbans - the worlds large'st mangrove forests, including the loss of biodiversity.

Protest in Khulna

Bangladesh is affected by numerous floods and cyclones. But there is a drought-prone area too.
Two hundred women from indigenous (or adivashi) communities in Rajshahi, north-western Bangladesh, carried empty clay water pots to symbolically highlight the problem.

The area, which is located in the Barind Tract of the country, has experienced serious water shortages which has been exacerbated by climate change. Communities say they dont have enough water for drinking, irrigation and agriculture.

A lack of rainfall meant farmers had poor crop yields, especially winter crops, including potato. But the greatest burden falls on women villagers who are forced to travel further from their homes to collect water.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

thousands in northern Bangladesh call for climate change action

Nearly five thousand people took part in this very colourful rally in Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh - one of the poorest areas of the country.

its the first of a series of events happening in the country organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month (December 1-12)

Many in the crowd wore head banners reading “Stop harming, start helping”. They are calling for richer countries, who are primarily responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, to cut their national carbon emissions. They want more help for poorer countries like Bangladesh to undertake adaptation measures to reduce their vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change.

Two elephants joined the crowd, one bearing the national flag of the United States, symbolizing the slow progress made by the world’s leading industrialized nations to take steps to reduce global warming, which was blocking the development of poor countries like Bangladesh.

Many of those joining the event live in char areas - a unique phenomenon in Bangladesh; basically these are islands of silt, or sandbars, that emerge out of river systems because of erosion. But just as they rise, they also disappear...forcing landless families who've moved onto them to live and earn what money they can from farming to move in several years time when the chars once again disappear into the water, largely due to erosion of the sandbanks.

People living on them are extremely poor and very vulnerable to flooding and heavy rainfall...often their small wooden houses are flooded and they cant farm the land for several months of the year.

Scientists have predicted that Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

Tackling the polluters

Outside a community centre in Jessore district, south-western Bangladesh, a team of art students are feverishly at work, determined to complete five large canvases. Before the morning is over, each panel will colourfully depict some of the weather-related problems that Bangladesh is currently facing, from waterlogged areas to flooding, cyclones and river erosion.

Inside the building, hundreds of other students have gathered to hear activists and environmentalists explain why Bangladesh - a low-lying, poor and densely-populated country which suffers from many weather-related problems every year - is seeing an increase in their frequency and intensity. Scientists say the phenomenon is related to global warming.

Masum Billah Hauladar, a 24-year-old from Barguna district, in south-western Bangladesh, knows first hand what that can mean. His hometown was one of the areas affected by cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh last November, killing more than three thousand and leaving millions homeless.

“I saw so many people left without proper shelter”, he said. “Many villagers are poor and uneducated. It’s our responsibility to educate them so we can help to prevent future disasters, and to get richer countries to help us in the future.”

Activities like this one in Jessore have been taking place across the country over the past five months. They’re part of a campaign by one of Bangladesh’s biggest newspapers, The Daily Jugantor, with the support of Oxfam.

Students taking part are also being asked to sign postcards, which are being sent out to ambassadors representing G8 countries based in the capital, Dhaka, with the message, “Stop Harming, Start Helping”.

Messages on the cards call on members of the world leading industrialised nations, the G8, to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and for the world’s chief polluters to provide poorer countries like Bangladesh with financial help to be able to better protect themselves against the adverse impacts of climate change.

More than 80,000 will be mailed out by the end of November. ”Many of our people are poor and illiterate”, said 22-year-old Tumpa Sangita, a highly articulate female student. “They don’t know about climate change, CFCs or greenhouses gases. But they are the people being affected now. They’re not the people creating the problem, but they are the people suffering.”

Its organisers believe that the campaign is already having a big impact. “Before, many people thought these weather disasters and changes we’re seeing were simply natural phenomena. Some even thought they happened because they were being punished for sins their communities may have committed”, said Sohrab Hasan, associate editor of The Daily Jugantor.

“But now more are realizing that’s not the case. The natural disasters have some linkages with social factors. They’re happening because of the sins of developed countries. They’re the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and they should be ethically bound to help people in Bangladesh.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cyclone Sidr - 1 year on

Today is the one year anniversary of Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh on November 15, 2007, killing more than 3,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

Low-lying Bangladesh is often prone to weather-related disasters, like cyclones. But in recent years, due to climatic changes, the intensity, ferocity and unpredictability of weather disasters have increased.

While there has been substantial international and governmental help for those affected by the disaster, more than 1/4 million families are still without proper shelter - many living in shacks with plastic sheeting or tin to protect them against the elements.

Oxfam released a documentary, Our Home after Sidr, highlighting some of the serious problems facing those affected by the cyclone.

People like Mussamat Shaheeda, from South Hajar Bigha, Barguna district. She lost her 8 year old son and daughter, just a few months old, in the cyclone. At a news conference, she tearfully told her audience that she was still without any proper housing.

A senior government official attending the launch has said there needed to be greater efforts and coordination between the goverment and donors to help those still in need.

“We accept there is a need for additional assistance for rebuilding their houses”, said K.H. Masud Siddiqui, Director General of the Disaster Management Bureau, which is in charge of overseeing the response to emergencies in Bangladesh.

He said government officials were currently assessing the Cyclone-affected areas to identify gaps.

There are concern for families in the south-west who face a second winter without safe homes - who remain highly vulnerable to ill health, malnutrition and future disasters.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

goodbye Taiwan

Taiwan is where I learnt - and loved - salsa dancing

After more than four years, I've left island that I called my home.

While it doesnt attract the tourist hordes many other places in Asia do, Taiwan is a forgotten or hidden gem. I used to say living there was like seeing a flower bloom...not all of its attractions are immediately revealed; but the longer you stay, the more you grow to appreciate the place. From stunning mountain areas, beautiful beaches, rich cultural traditions, unique aboriginal lifestyles, its a wonderful place and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to live there and get to make some really good friends.
I'll miss the place

Dhaka visit - protests

I'm currently in Dhaka, Bangladesh - my first deployment since I've left the BBC and Taiwan. I'm now working with Oxfam as a globally-travelling press officer.

I'm in Bangladesh to try to generate more media coverage for Oxfam's work - with some of the focus on climate change issues.

In the last few years, low-lying Bangladesh, already prone to cyclones and other weather-disasters, has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate related problems. Changing conditions have meant weather-related disasters have become less predictable and more difficult to manage. A lack of information and resources makes it harder for the poorest communities to prepare or respond to increased hazards.

Scientists have predicted that Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

At the end of my first week here, I saw my first Bangladesh protest.

These people were asking for government help in Jessore and Shatkira districts in south-western Bangladesh.

Around 161,000 were affected by the flooding which hit the region in late September.

Aid groups are concerned that thousands could be at risk with many families living in temporary, makeshift shelters, because of lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

While Bangladesh is frequently affected by cyclones and storms, south-western Bangladesh has not traditionally experienced heavy flooding. But that changed in 2004 and annual flooding has left hundreds of thousands of hectares of land under water for up to six months a year. The water level this year is much higher than in previous years – a situation linked to rising sea and coastal levels.

One reason for the heavy flooding has been the silting of local rivers and the disruption of their normal flows and poorly maintained embankments built decades ago to assist flood management.
The recent floods have damaged rice crops and washed away shrimp farms in affected areas. Flood water levels are more than two feet higher than in previous years and local communities said they would not be able to cultivate any crops in the coming season, making families even more vulnerable.

Humanitarian groups, who are closely monitoring the situation, have called such cases of localised flooding “silent disasters”. They are not classified national crises and government efforts have been limited. Aid groups believe a joint advocacy strategy is essential to find a longer-term solution to mitigating similar crises in the future