© Helvetas/Alexa Mekonen

Climate change, what loss and damage really means

FROM: Moumita Sen - 06. November 2022
© Helvetas/Alexa Mekonen

In Bangladesh sea level is rising increasing the salinity of land and water sources. As a consequence crops are destroyed and families are forced to migrate. It is time for the international community to compensate the most vulnerable countries. Join us at COP 27 event to discuss climate justice.

Masum holds the motorcycle spark plug with his greasy hands trying to figure out what’s wrong. The 18 years old boy just started his training as a mechanic in Morrelganj, on the Southwest coastal belt of Bangladesh. He was born into a family of farmers, but the land they used to cultivate is lost: “In 2007 I was only 2 when cyclone Sidr washed away our house and the fields” explained Masum, “My family moved to Pashkhali village where my grandparents lived to start over”. But the impact of a cyclone continues well beyond its passage.

People living in Pashkhali and along the coastal belt know that cyclones, floods and tidal surge bring salty water into their ponds, and fields. But because of global warming the level of sea water is rising and so does the height of the tide. Infiltration of saline water is now continuous and inescapable putting agriculture, biodiversity and human health at great risk. When salt level in water and soil is too high plants and farmed fishes eventually die. The consumption of salty water can cause hypertension, diarrhoea, skin diseases and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women.   

In 2010, after two years of declining yields, Masum’s father decided to give up farming and got a job in a ship factory. In 2012 his mother remarried and left Pashkali as well. Masum stayed with his grandfather, struggling to finish school. After 5th grade, he started working in the paddy fields with his grandfather, but it soon was clear that production was not enough to support them. “I did not want to migrate to a big city where I do not have a place to stay or a job or my closed ones”, added Masum.

© Helvetas/Dipali Biswas
«I did not want to migrate to a big city where I do not have a place to stay or a job or my closed ones»

Masum, 18 trainee in motorcycle mechanic

Supporting people to acquire new skills

Helvetas is supporting potential migrants in the southwest coast by organizing vocational trainings on computer literacy, motor mechanic, beauty parlor service, welding, tailoring, mobile servicing, carpentry, artificial hair making, house wearing, etc. to provide young women and men with the necessary skills to build an alternative livelihood in their villages or move better equipped to town.

Vulnerable communities in Bangladesh have been coping with the adverse impacts of extreme weather events since the 1970s. The exacerbation of the climate crisis is wiping out the livelihoods of millions of people at an alarming pace, making it impossible for them to adapt. These destructive impacts are discussed at international level under the concept of “loss and damage” introduced in 2013 by the Warsaw International Mechanism and further retained by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Although the debate has been going on for many years, a clear definition of loss and damage is still lacking, hindering the operationalization of specific policies and actions to address them.

Last month the Scottish Government held a conference on practical actions to address loss and damage, an initiative to advance the topic in the international climate agenda on the eve of COP27 that takes place in Egypt from 6-19 November.  Time is running out.

© Helvetas/Franca Roiatti
«It is predicted that by 2050 more than 35 million people could be displaced from coastal districts of Bangladesh»

“We used to live a happy life”

Researchers, practitioners, writers are collecting a growing body of evidence to quantify and define loss and damage. But for the most vulnerable communities of Bangladesh disruption from climate change is already very real.

 “My father was a farmer and we used to live a happy life. Crops and vegetables grew all year-round. There was enough to feed the family and we had even surplus to sell. But now we have to look for other jobs, just to survive” says Arif, who is participating in a training on computer literacy in Morrelganj.

Arif’s family used to live on the bank of Panguchi river. Since the height of tidal flow keeps increasing every year, the only road to access the village is constantly inundated during monsoon season. The lack of a strong embankment or any kind of protection exposes the community to recurrent floods. Soil is waterlogged for longer periods and salinity destroys the fertility of the cropland.

Impacts on the daily life of coastal communities in Bangladesh are massive and many see no other alternative then migrate and leave everything behind. It is predicted that by 2050 more than 35 million people could be displaced from coastal districts of Bangladesh. A study estimates that by 2050 South Asia will experience climate change-related damages of US$518 billion, which will rise to US$997 billion by 2070. It is high time; climate-vulnerable developing countries are compensated, and the world's largest emitters take responsibility for their emissions. It’s called climate justice.

On 10 November 2022 Helvetas will take part in a COP 27 event on “Dealing with loss and damages”

Livestream on www.helvetas.org/cop27

4:15-5:45 PM (Dhaka time) 13:15–14:45 EET (UTC+2)