Olivia Paine, Campaigns and Policy Officer, reflects on her recent trip to Bangladesh and explains why she wrote to her MP during the Climate Coalition’s Speak Up Week.
Six months ago, I was lucky enough to visit Oxfam’s programmes in Bangladesh. I not only saw the impact of Oxfam’s work on the ground, but also had the enormous privilege of meeting communities who are living on the front line of our changing climate. Amidst all the political debates on climate change, it’s sometimes easy to forget the profound impact that it’s already having on people’s lives and how much more many are at risk of losing.
Bangladesh is lush and has hugely fertile lands.
I visited in the winter but everywhere I looked was bursting with life; flowers were blooming, crops were thriving, and fresh vegetables like gourds and beans grew in people’s gardens. Sadly, the things which make this country so beautiful also make it highly vulnerable to climate change.
There is a vast network of rivers running through Bangladesh and its extremely low lying, making it prone to flooding. On top of this, the monsoon rains are getting stronger whilst the winter months are getting dryer, so farmers are increasingly facing drought. Tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and ocean acidification further threaten the livelihoods of those living in the south of the country.
I spent most of my trip visiting communities in the north of Bangladesh. Two of these were in the sandy char lands which are intersected by vast waterways and plagued by river erosion. It took us an hour to travel to these remote villages by speedboat, during which we witnessed how dramatically the landscape is changing and how quickly large parts of the river bank fall away.
In these villages climate adaptation is a priority.
We visited a raised school, walked through fields where farmers are planting more resilient crop varieties and saw a double headed water pump which enables people to access clean water during the floods. Many of the people we met had lost land and have been forced move their homes because of the shifting river. Some had been uprooted five times over the course of their lifetimes. This was clearly traumatic and I cannot imagine how destabilising it must be to face such uncertainty.
Climate change threatens to push people back into poverty.
I met a woman called Aisha who had secured three bank loans to improve her farm. She now owns four cross-breed cows which produce higher milk yields, three of which were expecting calves. She is entrepreneurial and determined to improve the lives of her children who are currently in school. However, despite their resilience, I wonder what future lies ahead for women like Aisha when their livelihoods are continually threatened.
In the summer of 2017 Bangladesh experienced particularly heavy rains and much of the country was covered by water. I visited a village in Kurigram district where 400 homes had been destroyed by seven-meter flood waters. Huge crevices had been gauged out of the earth by the flood water and piles of sand had been dumped in the fields by the torrent. An elderly couple who had lost everything told me that they had never witnessed floods this great and that they had only escaped with their lives.
Although the people we met were grateful for the emergency support they were receiving from Oxfam, the grief for what they had lost was palpable.
A letter can make a big difference.
This week I will be joining people across the UK who are meeting their MPs to ask for tougher action on climate change. We are calling on the UK government to update the Climate Change Act with a commitment to net zero emissions before 2050. I am writing to my MP because this will not only help us meet our commitments to the Paris Agreement but is vital to protect those bearing the brunt of climate change.
Bangladesh is incredibly vulnerable but it’s not too late. With urgent action and strong policies on climate change, a brighter future is possible. During Speak Out Week I want to stand alongside the communities I met in Bangladesh and call for a better deal for the world’s poorest people. Please join me in writing to your MP and calling for a policy which would benefit us all.