Children, youth and DRR in Bangladesh

22 May 2017

Sohanur Rahman, Founder & CEO, YouthNet for Climate Justice

When it comes to climate change, Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone and vulnerable countries in the world. Climate change is amplifying its vulnerability to hydro-meteorological disasters and also results in food insecurity.

The country is considered to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change because of its disadvantageous geographic location: it has a flat and low-lying topography, and a funnel-shaped coastline. Added to this, it is challenged by its high population density and level of poverty, and its reliance on livelihoods in climate-sensitive sectors, including agriculture, fisheries and water resources.

Climate change therefore poses a significant threat to the country. It creates additional threats to people and is undermining our development goals.

On average, approximately, 25% of the total area of Bangladesh is flooded every year (BCCSAP, 2009). Due to the rise in the average sea level, an additional 14% of the country may be extremely vulnerable to floods by 2030 (7th five year plan, 2015).

According to the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report, the global mean surface temperature is projected to rise by 1.1-6.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century. As a result, the impact of climate change will not only hamper people’s lives in Bangladesh, but will also disrupt the country’s efforts to achieve the key results of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The effects of the changing global climate are already being felt in Bangladesh and the country is ranked second on the climate change vulnerabilities index. Climate change is affecting the natural, social and economic system. Rapid-onset events like floods, cyclones, landslides are causing damage to infrastructure and affecting lives and livelihoods, while slow-onset events such as droughts are rendering home environments permanently inhabitable and agricultural land unproductive. As a result, the availability of nutritious foods and clean water resources is decreasing and the ecosystem and safe living environments are facing destruction.

Vast swathes of this region, especially coastal areas, islands and islets, are climate change hotpots, being affected regularly by natural disasters which create further vulnerabilities. Several studies underscore acute coastal zone vulnerability due to the combined effects of climate change, sea level rise, subsidence and changes to upstream discharge, cyclones and coastal embankments (BCAS, RA and Approach, 1994; WB, 2000). Four key types of primary physical effects – saline water intrusion, drainage congestion, extreme events, and changes in coastal morphology – have been identified as key vulnerabilities in the coastal area of Bangladesh (WB, 2000).

The city of Barisal, which lies on the banks of the Kirtankhola River, is one of the country’s most important river ports. The biggest climate risks the city faces are cyclones and floods. At present, they pose a particular threat to citizens, residential and commercial buildings and cause most damage in the poorer western parts of the city. Barisal is prone to flooding due to heavy rains, high river discharge, and cyclone storm surges. Climate change and urban development are driving greater flood risk.

In the city, the main consequences are saline water intrusion, loss of assets and infrastructure, health impacts that increase morbidity, contaminated  water supply, the disruption of sanitation and drainage systems, increasing salinity in the canals, river bank encroachment, livelihood change and biodiversity loss. Poor people in Barisal live in low-lying, flood-prone riverside areas and are the most vulnerable to disasters related to climate change.

We need resources to support our ideas on DRR, but lack the budget to support it. Regular resources bring empowerment and help to bring attention to DRR. Overall, there is a need for DRR and climate financing for developing countries that are innocent victims. Fund disbursement should be in accordance with the local needs and priorities.

We also stress the need for increasing budgetary allocations for coastal protection, focusing on children and youth. Public-private partnerships can also be included in disaster management and climate change adaptation responses. The corporate sector should produce and make available products –such as food, water, energy and medicine – which are useful in climate change adaptation as well as in disasters and relief operations.

The government of Bangladesh has made laudable progress in disaster risk management and preparedness. The country has already formulated a National Plan for Disaster Management in the light of the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action, following the guidelines of UNISDR. Bangladesh has revised the 2012 Disaster Management and the Standing Order on Disaster to address both natural and man-made disasters. NGOs, civil society organizations, youth-led organizations, development agencies, academia and research institutions are working actively with the government for disaster risk reduction in a comprehensive way. Long-term investment is needed in disaster prevention and climate change adaptation from the government, with harmonization of polices from the national to local levels.

Poverty alleviation and reducing hunger should be a central focus in DRR and climate change adaption action. Local government institutions need more recourse and authority in DRR and climate change adaptation activities. Local government units must work with children to address issues in DRR and recovery and reconstruction. Vulnerability tools should be brought under common ground. Assessment of  loss and damage due to climate disasters is important, as are demands for compensation.

Also important are the understanding of the local level disaster risks with the vulnerable communities, and capacity strengthening on the localization of people-oriented early warning systems. It’s an appropriate time to break the silence and act as a unit to create a platform for joint efforts on DRR and climate change adaptions. Civil society organizations, NGOs and youth-led organizations should work as watchdogs and put pressure on government and UN agencies to ensure citizens’ participation and accountability. There is also a need for a  stronger role of the media in DRR.

On top of this, it’s also important to: enable collaboration between the government and NGOs to ensure inclusive DRR; to fill the gaps in different policies and action plans regarding child-  and youth-centered adaptation; and to develop an action plan for the  national and local level for Children and Youth-Centered Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction for the government and actors building community resilience.

It is strongly felt that the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 will create the opportunity for all actors to advance coordinated efforts.

Youth make up a large part of the population of Bangladesh:  an estimated 28.2%. In 2014, UNFPA projected that, by 2050, only 10-19% of Bangladesh’s population will consist of young people, indicating the need for proper investment for human capital in the country.

Empowering youth to lead change, and to deal with challenges, hierarchy and patriarchy, is cost effective. Youth are the best change agents, because they are motivated by strong ideas, willing to take risks, have a lot of energy, are trend setters for others, and are highly communicative. However, they may lack skills and opportunity, power, technical knowledge and material resources.

Moreover, young people are aware of social and environmental problems and have the power to transform their societies towards a low carbon and climate resilient future. In addition, youth empowerment enables them to take adaptation and mitigation action and enhances their effective participation in climate change policy decision-making process. Youth will then be able to take early action to stabilize their livelihoods, build resilience and educate others on climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation.

Because they are positive agents of change in their communities and for raising awareness, youth also can be mobilized in disaster preparedness and post-disaster efforts, for example in managing natural resources and mobilizing communities for the use of new technologies.

Children and youth should be included in local disaster management planning and capacity building. Children are often neglected in society, in organizations and even in the family, while the impact of disaster on them is huge because it affects their education, protection, health, food, and mental development.

Children and youth were specially recognized in the Sendai Framework. They are thereby officially recognized as an important partner with special needs in disaster settings. Children and youth are drivers of behavioral change, can provide innovative solutions, and can share perspectives that are vital in building resilience. It is critical then that children and youth acquire the appropriate knowledge, critical thinking and life-saving skills on how to reduce risk, prepare and respond to disasters, so they may make well-informed decisions to protect themselves and their community against future risks.

We need support and strengthen the meaningful participation of children and youth in disaster risk reduction and enable access to information. We furthermore must ensure meaningful participation of children and youth in disaster risk reduction and policy development, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes, as well as for building safe community infrastructure and ensuring relief and reconstruction help to reduce future risks.

We need to create space and opportunity for children to speak out on DRR and undertake DRR actions in our interventions and advocate with DRR stakeholders, including governments and policy-makers at national and local levels, to support the participation of children in disaster risk reduction programs.

Considering this vulnerable situation of Bangladesh’s Barisal Division, and acknowledging that youth can be the prime mover for social change, adolescents and young people have joined together, mobilized to prevent and respond to these vulnerabilities, raised their voices and formed a network named “YouthNet for Climate Justice”.

The challenges and next steps are resilient city planning, mainstreaming climate smart strategies in city development programs, continued and effective coordination and collaboration with all stakeholders in resilience and adaptation, and financing for resilience program adaptation. We need more opportunities and spaces to discuss among ourselves as well as to share our views with decision‐makers.



BCCSAP, 2009- Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2009 

7th Five Year Plan, 2015- Bangladesh’s government launched its 7th Five Year Plan 2016–2020 in October 2015. The approval came at a National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – also the NEC Chairperson. it have addressed urban transition and a sustainable development pathway resilient to disasters and climate change.

BCAS, RA and Approatech, 1994- Vulnerability of Bangladesh to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise, by Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS), Resource Analysis (RA), and Approtech Consultants Limited with support from Netherlands government 

WB, 2000- World Bank Report  2000.

Sohanur Rahman is the Founder of the YouthNet for Climate Justice (YN4CJ) – a voluntary youth organization network for raising awareness and taking actions to tackle the adverse effects of Climate Change. He has been one of the key Bangladeshi youth climate change activists who has focused on bringing youth voices to decision making processes for many years. Sohanur Rahman (also known as Sohan) is a dedicated young professional working with the World Youth Parliament as Founder & CEO. Hence, he has sound knowledge on different thematic issues including water management, youth engagement, child rights, governance and human development, climate and humanitarian, policies, developments and international affairs. His pro- active involvement gave him a combination of skills and experiences to lead social change.

Sohan’s activism dates back to 2007, when as a young boy he got involved with the Bangladesh Scouts Program. But his climate change work started in the aftermath of cyclone Sidr, which wreaked havoc on the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Sohanur Rahman works with SEDS, which is a partner organization of GWP & BWP. Sohan was selected for Youth for Water and Climate – Global Competition for #YouthLed Projects of Water Partnership (GWP) through his leading ide “Life” project in Swaronkhola Bangladesh in COP 22. Our youth-led projects which are based on the white paper recommendations made at COP 21.

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