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Archive for the ‘Microfinance’ Category

Climate Change, Microfinance and Climbing Out of Poverty in Bangladesh

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

By Nick Metheny

Flooding-Bangladesh_Climate-ChangeWater, Water Everywhere

Deep in the mangrove forests of southern Bangladesh, a perfect storm of climate-related factors is threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. This thumbprint of a country is squeezed between the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers and the rising water levels of the Bay of Bengal. Throw in more frequent and intense monsoons and land that was already below sea level, and suddenly there is way, way too much water.

The southern part of the country is so inundated with brackish, grey mud that many families are literally up to their knees in it. I had the opportunity to visit this area of the country last spring, and let me tell you, it looks like another planet. Huts that used to overlook paddies of rice now sit half sunk in the goop. Fishermen who once pulled in enormous catches from the Ganges river delta now sit in muddy water; their nets empty save for some salt water krill. Bangladesh is already one of the world’s poorest countries, and climate change is only making it worse.

The Great Migration

Families are so desperate that they regularly take their chances against the tigers roaming the mangrove forests to slip into India for work. Or, they may try their luck joining the legions of rickshaw drivers and unskilled laborers in Dhaka, the squalid, overcrowded capital. The World Bank predicts that crop yields will fall by more than 30 percent by 2050, rendering food security perilous for the vast majority of Bangladeshis. What’s more, fifteen million of them will be displaced by climate change. That’s like evacuating every citizen from the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago- combined.

Fighting (or Pinching) Back

While the larger global community is squabbling about what to do about climate change- or if it even truly exists- families are losing the only livelihood they’ve had for generations. Luckily, there are organizations that are fighting for them. BRAC, based in Bangladesh, is one of the world’s largest development organizations. It provides microfinance funds for people to repurpose their now water-laden land. With small loans or grants, former rice farmers can buy crab baskets, thereby turning once wasted land back into something with which they can support themselves. These cash-crop crustaceans can grow to almost 4kg a piece and fetch up to $5 at the local market. The program has become so successful that farmers say they would want to keep crab farming even if their land becomes suitable for rice again. Luckily (and unluckily) for them, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

More than anything, these programs show the resilience of the human spirit when faced with seemingly insurmountable hardships. The loss of land, livelihood, and- at times- life from climate change is common in southern Bangladesh. However, programs like BRAC’s allow people to pull themselves out of poverty and joblessness and produce income for themselves, thereby removing the ‘relief mentality’. This mindset, where people become accustomed to handouts because of their dire straits, prolongs the amount of time people spend in poverty and reduces their chances of escaping it. Critics say that the crab farming initiative and others like it do nothing to treat the larger causes of climate change. However, they do make an almost immediate difference in the lives of thousands of families, and in the short term at least, that is what really matters.

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Nick Metheny graduated in 2011 with an MPH in Global Health from The George Washington University. He loves to read, run, and travel, and is especially passionate about Global Health and International Development.  He resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.