The aim of this study was to critically analyse the generation and use of climate science and local knowledge in climate risk management and decision-making in Bangladesh, with a focus on the cyclone and storm-surge affected Barisal division, in the south-west region of the country. It was anticipated that the study would allow identification of gaps in knowledge, as well as suggesting potential areas of future research, which could contribute to improvements in climate risk management strategies and decision-making. The study therefore has clear practical and policy-related implications. The objectives of the research are outlined below:
• To determine the global and local climate information systems being generated and used, as well as the quality of the information being produced.
• To examine how well this information is being communicated and made accessible to end-users.
• To assess how well this information is being utilised by the different user groups in climate risk management and decision-making.
• To determine whether the institutional arrangements within Bangladesh can facilitate a collective approach to CRM and decision-making.
Bangladesh is ranked fifth amongst ten of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change induced natural hazards, and is particularly vulnerable to floods, cyclones and droughts. As a developing country it is particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with climate change, since it is located in high-risk natural setting, and its adaptive capacity is reduced by poor socio-economic development. Local communities are heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture as a source of food and income in Bangladesh, and crop yields are particularly vulnerable to the variability in weather associated with climate change. To combat the threats, there is a need for improved weather forecasting, improved planning and on-the-ground response, as well as adaptation of agricultural practices in response to changing conditions. If utilised properly, weather forecasts can be a valuable risk-management tool, helping to reduce vulnerability, and increase agricultural productivity under a changing climate.
Local knowledge also represents an important determinant and indicator of adaptive capacity, acting as a tool to better to inform policy and decision-making at all levels. Bangladesh is rich in bodies of local knowledge, especially indicators of weather. Unfortunately, local knowledge systems haven’t been recorded in a systematic way in Bangladesh, and are therefore not readily accessible to policymakers, researchers and development agencies. In order for Bangladesh to adapt to future climate change, then properly used climate science and local knowledge is required to inform climate risk management and decision-making at all levels.
A case study approach provided the opportunity to conduct research and meet with a wide range of stakeholders involved in generating climate science and local knowledge, as well as those disseminating it and utilising this knowledge to inform policy and decision-making.
A mixed methods research methodology was utilised to carry out the data collection for this study. Qualitative research in the form of semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions (FGD) and key-informant interviews (KII) formed the core of the research for this project, with an in-depth literature review conducted to inform both question selection as well as the interviewee groups. A broad cross-section of scientists, academics, government, NGOs, media representatives and rural communities were selected for face-to-face interviews to inform the study.
There was also a quantitative component in the form of a questionnaire, which supplemented the more focussed information obtained from interviews. The data from the literature review, interviews and questionnaire were then triangulated to inform the discussion, conclusions and recommendations of the study.
Analysis & Discussion
By interviewing 42 stakeholders from a range of backgrounds, as well as conducting six Community Based Organisation (CBO) focus groups with inhabitants from rural communities, this study helped to gain a good preliminary understanding of the role that climate information plays in policy and decision-making in Bangladesh. The information below represents key themes in the findings from stakeholder interviews. Interview questions were aggregated into several key areas:
Generation: There is a pressing need to generate, translate and communicate, seasonal forecasts in Bangladesh that are both accurate and reliable, as well as giving an indication of the probabilities and uncertainties involved in such predictions. A lack of funding and trained personnel in SPARRSO and the BMD is suggestive that there is still a true need for improved research and development within these government institutions. Several interviewees highlighted the value of regional approaches to strengthening capacity. Establishing ‘south-south’ cooperation through building Centres of Excellence in Bangladesh could help to develop this regional capacity if conducted in a way that is respectful of societies needs and priorities, with aid going to priority areas for development. Building strong institutions is an essential part of strengthening overall capacity.
Quality: There was strong agreement amongst participants from this study that the accuracy and quality of climate information is insufficient to meet end-users’ needs. A low number and poor distribution of weather stations, means that the BMD are unable to downscale forecasts and provide localised information at the level required by smallholder farmers. Inadequate adoption of technological advances available globally and lack of personnel at the BMD were consistently cited by stakeholders as reasons for the lack of reliable seasonal and long-term forecasts, as was the systemic corruption throughout government organisations.
Accessibility: There was a consensus amongst stakeholders that climate information needs to be packaged into sector-specific, practical packages to make it easier for end-users to exploit it within their decision-making. There is a need for location specific agro-meteorological forecasts in Bangladesh, which will in turn require improved quality for satellite data. There is an inequality in access to forecasts for the most vulnerable populations, at the fringes of the country, and therefore it is critical that greater efforts are made to ensure that such information is available to these individuals. Agricultural extension officers could play an important role in this through outreach programmes, which could promote wider access and benefit from climate science and technology.
Dialogue: At a national level, there is significant room for improvement in communication between all stakeholder groups. The greatest consensus on how this might be achieved was through arranging workshops and establishing formal partnerships, which would allow scientists to provide training about the information that they are generating and would provide end-users with a better understanding of probabilities and uncertainties in climate predictions. Collaboration between government ministries was emphasised as being particularly poor by interviewees.
Dissemination: The consensus amongst all stakeholder groups was that the dissemination of climate information needed to be improved in Bangladesh. There was broad agreement that workshops should be held, involving all stakeholders. Media, agricultural extension officers and schools were all considered to be important mechanisms to disseminate information. In terms of real-time dissemination, it was also widely agreed that there is a pressing need to develop either mobile phones or Direct to Home technology.
Use & Understanding: Findings showed that climate information in policy briefs is too complicated for the civil servants to understand. Equally, it was suggested that scientists often do not understand how their information aligns with the priorities of policy-makers and that it is not translated into actions sufficiently. For rural communities, extreme weather warnings are often ignored due to past failures in prediction, often with fatal consequences. There is therefore a need to educate rural communities about the uncertainties associated with forecasts. Furthermore, many non-climatic stressors contribute to the decisions made by farmers, and by gaining a better understanding of these factors, policymakers will gain a more realistic understanding of the capabilities of forecasts as risk management tools.
Risk preparedness: The current cyclone forecasting system was described as being lacking in accuracy in regard to the location and height of storm surges, thus requiring further research. A problem with cyclone warning cited by several interviewees is that they are often ignored, due to past failures, meaning that there is a need to educate rural populations about forecasting uncertainties.
Local Knowledge Uptake: Inhabitants in the Barisal coastal region of Bangladesh are capable of predicting cyclones based on their indigenous knowledge through a combination of indicators, including both hydrological and natural weather phenomena. It was widely agreed that there is a need to collate and propagate the most reliable indicators to provide multiple methods of predicting cyclones, storm surges and droughts in the future. The potential for using local indicators of weather within early warning systems should not be ignored, especially with the current monitoring system for storm-surge being wholly inadequate. Further to this, by rebuilding a culture of science and reasserting the ownership of science, taking into account the contribution of ancient cultures in the development of modern science and technology, this process may help to motivate younger generations of scientists and innovators in developing countries such as Bangladesh.
Conclusions & recommendations
Adaptation is not possible. Cognitively and semantically we are adapting in a continuous cycle. However, if the findings and recommendations of this study are practiced and the tested from time-to-time, they will help to build adaptive capacity in Bangladesh through a dynamic process, continually building tolerance and flexibility:
• Significant efforts need to be made by Government and academic research bodies towards facilitating the generation of information and knowledge related to climate change and risk management.
• There is a need to encourage science & technology transfer throughout all organisations, in order to facilitate a communal approach to climate prediction and modelling.
• There needs to be increased budgetary allocation for climate science, technology and innovation within Bangladesh. Consideration should be given to integrating the BCCRF and BCCTF, in order to strengthen and streamline Bangladesh’s streams of income.
• Seasonal forecasts are severely lacking in accuracy and reliability. There is therefore an need to build more weather stations throughout the country, as well as making creating sector-specific climate information.
• There is a need to build the capacity in Government, local institutions (CBOs, schools, community radio) and civil society organisations (NGOs, Media, Extension officers), in order for them to engage in the governance of climate change related activities. Inclusive partnerships workshops and Centres of Excellence will help to address imbalances in access to information.
• Focus on governance is a priority. There is a need to decentralise the monitoring and accountability mechanism for climate change in the GOB, with strong consideration to be given to decentralising the finance and planning mechanism too. Strengthening the effectiveness and relevance of R&D will be unlikely without accountability and transparency in Government institutions.
• Document and communicate the uncertainties and failures, but also successes of climate prediction and risk management, to facilitate a continuous learning process at all levels.
• Real-time dissemination of information must be improved. SMS and DTH technology should be thoroughly explored as ways to disseminate short-term forecasts for NW storms.
• The current cyclone forecasting system is lacking in accuracy in regard to location-specific information relating to storm surges. There is also a need to shift towards a pro-active approach in DRR, with a stronger emphasis on synergising DRR and CCA.
• A lack of reliable seasonal forecasts and poor storm-surge forecasting system means that there is huge potential for utilising a wealth of local weather indicators as a CRM tool. Further research should be carried out into creating local knowledge data-banks. Further to this, local knowledge should be incorporated into national development plans and schools, as well as integrating it with modern scientific information systems.
The primary focus of Bangladesh within this case study was chosen to allow generation of country specific recommendations. However, it is anticipated that the findings will potentially be more widely applicable to other developing countries that are also experiencing similar effects from climate change, as well as facing difficulties in generating, accessing, disseminating, utilising and understanding global and local climate information systems.
There are a multitude of countries that are suffering from a lack of capacity with regards to climate science. The Maldives is one example of a least developed country that is affected by sea level rise, which could learn from the findings of this study.
William Arthur Smith
Imperial College London, CEP