Community and institutional responses to the challenges facing poor urban people in an era of global warming in Bangladesh

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


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Hanlon J (2020) Bangladesh farmers push for temporary flooding to correct Dutch polder failure in Journal of International Development

Title My home my own way 
Description This is a video documentary based on the 2010 student project involving 20 4th year undergraduate architecture students of BRAC University, Dhaka - on "Adapting my home in my own way: how architects can poor urban people". 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2010 
Description Main Findings

Bangladesh is rapidly urbanising (the urban population increases at 3.7% per annum) and around 31.5% of its urban people live below the poverty line. Climate change already appears to be increasing the problems faced by poor urban people through raised levels of risk and vulnerability.

1. What are the key challenges facing poor urban people and how does climate change affect them?

The urban poor in case study cities (Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna) face high levels of risk and vulnerability that are, and will be, exacerbated by climate change. Its impacts are both direct and indirect. Directly: homes are flooded; drainage systems fail; water becomes scarcer; livelihoods are disrupted; incomes fall; and health burdens increase. Indirectly: rural livelihoods are destroyed and millions migrate to towns and cities, placing additional demand on already overstressed housing facilities and services and saturating the labour market. Households experience multiple shocks, and often a further shock occurs before people have recovered from the current/previous ones. These problems exacerbate other non-climatic crises, such as the threat of eviction. Newcomers to urban areas are particularly vulnerable during their early years when they struggle to secure a livelihood, shelter, access to services and social relations.

2. What adaptation practices do individuals and communities develop to face these challenges?

Low-income people are developing many innovative adaptation practices, acting individually and at household-level, as well as collectively. Individual and household-level actions predominantly involve diversifying livelihoods, forming and consolidating networks, and making adjustments to dwellings. Collective actions, in contrast, are more concerned with improving the quality of the built environment, including access to and management of public facilities. They also concern tenure security, and social organisation and mobilisation. The more diverse the adaptation practices the greater is the likelihood of reducing vulnerability.

Context is king for adaptation to climate for poorer citizens and security of land tenure is a particularly important contextual factor. Analysis of the significance of tenure security on adaptation practices reveal: (i) only when poor urban people's tenure is relatively secure will they invest in shelter and basic service provision; (ii) security of tenure raises the prospects for both direct and indirect adaptation initiatives; (iii) insecure tenure often results in higher rates of mobility, undermining community-based adaptation efforts; and (iv) there is a large gap between people's exposure to risk and their ability to develop effective adaptation practices, depending on whether they have some informal claim to their land and dwelling or whether they live in rented accommodation.

The last of these findings - that households which are renting dwellings have fewer opportunities for adaptation - has considerable policy significance (see 4).

3. Which institutional structure mediates the urban poor's livelihoods and access to services?

Complex sets of formal and informal institutions mediate poor urban people's livelihoods and access to services. Informal institutions such as slum-dwellers' associations are especially important. Not all people have the same levels of access to various institutions. There are significant differences between the ways in which inhabitants of public and private slums connect to power structures. An important reason for this is that institutions such as NGOs and donors usually prioritise public settlements, particularly larger ones, when providing basic services. The original settlers in such settlements usually claim informal ownership of the land and dwellings. In contrast, privately built settlements are usually small or medium-sized and rarely attract external institutional support. Tenants usually reside for shorter periods and have little incentive to adapt dwellings. Landlords also discourage tenants from developing home-based enterprises, and forming community-based organisations.

4. What are the policy implications of these findings?

Government policy needs to include poor and low-income urban households. The draft national housing policy has been awaiting approval since 2004. The National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, BCCCAP 2009, had no strategies specifically aimed at the low-income urban population. The closest it got was 'urban drainage', developing structures like embankments and flood defences. Whilst these are important adaptation investments, the benefits from such projects will not reach poor urban people unless their rights are protected through policy. There is a danger such projects could make their situation worse, precipitating what is called 'adaptation cleansing': political or market-led evictions of poor urban residents by elites to seize economic opportunities.

The rise of private developers of low-income shelter is a paradox that might be turned into a development opportunity. Against a backdrop of policy neglect, the private sector has stepped in. Thousands of low-income settlements are being built informally on private land, especially along the city edges. These lands are not officially suitable for development and are particularly risk-prone. Local, national and international agencies need to work with the informal private sector to expand and improve the quality of its provisioning of housing and other services. This is an area for our future research.

Plans for further research

1. Already awarded: "Institutions for urban poor's access to ecosystem services: A comparison of green and water structures in Bangladesh and Tanzania", NE-L001616-1, November 2013-April 2016, NERC-ESRC-DFID funded (under the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation, ESPA programme).

2. Already awarded: "The rise of private slum developers in Bangladesh and India: Heroes or villain?" British Academy - International Partnership and Mobility Scheme - IPM 2014, February 2015-January 2018.

3. In preparation: "Unlocking the Potential? The role of private slum developers in urban transformation". ESRC India Newton Fund Proposal, 2016.
Exploitation Route Scientific Impact

Publication of two books:

(a) An edited volume on "Urban poverty and climate change: Life in the slums of Asia, Africa and Latin America", prepared from the best papers presented at the ClimUrb International Workshop, held at Manchester on 9-10 September 2013. Final manuscript due to contracted publisher (Routeledge-Earthscan) in June 2015.

(b) An authored book targetted at the public and policy-makers "Keeping our head above the water", Anthem Press.

Publication of two significant articles (others are planned):

(1) "Cyclone resistant dwellings in Bangladesh: Lessons from two decades of piloting" to Global Environmental Change.

(2) "Resilience or urban opportunities? Examining differential adaptation practices by low-income urban dwellers of different cities in Bangladesh" to World Development.

Economic and Social Impact

* Active participation in BRAC University-led implementation of World Bank-Bangladesh National Housing Authority funded project on Pro-poor Slum Improvement Project (PPSIP) in five cities of Bangladesh (US$ 80 million).

* Promoting high-end user uptake of findings via David Hulme's formal/informal meetings at ministerial levels (Planning Commission and Finance) and donor organisations (e.g. DFID, UNDP and World Bank Dhaka).

* Presenting findings to national think tank organisations (e.g. Centre for Policy Dialogue, CPD, Dhaka) and policy advocacy and practitioner community (e.g. WaterAid Bangladesh)

* Building partnerships with and disseminating findings to NGOs and knowledge intermediaries, locally (e.g. Dushtha Sasthya Kendra, DSK, Bangladesh), regionally (e.g. Centre for Science and Environment, CSE, India) and internationally (Shack/Slum Dwellers International, SDI).

Potential use in a non-academic context

Our continued engagement with user groups in Bangladesh over the next three years will seek to contribute to particular policy changes.

1. Raised awareness in policy-making circles of the need for pro-poor urban policies.

2. Formulation of a national policy on access to land and shelter for low-income urban households.

3. Recognition that 'the future' of low-income housing in Bangladesh is of private renting and thus focusing on how to improve conditions in this sector.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

Description Our findings are being used through direct impact processes (engaging with project design and national strategies), informal processes (Hulme and Roy's frequent meetings with senior policy makers in Bangladesh) and contributions to public understanding (radio broadcasts). Our approach to impact is through coproduction - jointly producing knowledge with partner research institutions, NGOs/CBOs and communities - so we do not claim to be the sole agent of impact in any of our examples. 1. Direct engagement with the design of the World Bank - National Housing Authority US$ 80 million Pro-Poor Slum Improvement Project (PPSIP) - project conceptualisation, methodology for community selection, spatial analysis and land acquisition, and monitoring of urban poverty (with BRAC University). 2. Ensured that the protection of urban poor people was included in the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) with Hulme as the team leader for the NSPS support team to the Planning Commission. 3. Raising awareness of the role of private sector low-income housing developers in meeting the shelter needs of low-income urban households (our story was picked up by Delhi-based HUDCO magazine). 4. Raising public understanding of urban poverty in Bangladesh (two 'From Our Own Correspondent' broadcasts each to an estimated 40 million listeners). 5. Advice on the selection of indicators to UNDP's Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction Project (UPPRP) to measure the degree to which Community Development Committees (CDCs) had become permanent Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) as an indicator of programme sustainability. 6. Major improvements to drains infrastructure in Motijhorna settlement, Chittagong following our City Dialogue on 10th September 2012 (a dialogue of University of Manchester and BRAC University researchers with municipal councillors, civil servants, NGOs and community members). 7. Major improvements to floodgates and drainage in Rupsha Ghat settlement, Khulna following our City Dialogue on 19th February 2011 (a dialogue of University of Manchester and BRAC University researchers with municipal councillors, civil servants, NGOs and community members). 8. Keeping urban poverty on the policy agenda by on-going informal meetings with policymakers (Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning, and Cabinet Secretary), national thought leaders (heads of Power and Participation Research Centre, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies etc.) and civil society. 9. Empowerment of grassroots organisations such as Nagar Daridra Basteebashir Unnayan Sangstha (NDBUS) (our sustained involvement with NDBUS has enabled them to engage in dialogues with national and international development partners).
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Slums, landlords and toilets in Chittagong 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This is BBC World Service "From Our Own Correspondent" radio broadcast, 30 Nov and 1 December 2012, reached an audience of 80 to 100 million listeners, listen here:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description The aftermath of the 2009 cyclone aila in Bangladesh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This is BBC World Service "From Our Own Correspondent" talk; broadcast 7 April 2011, eight to 10 million listeners, listen here:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011