A series of Climate Poverty Hearings were held in Bangladesh in late April 2009. Locations for these hearings ranged from a bus stand in Bangshipur, a housing estate in Noakhali, to a high school in Dhamuirat. The hearings involved nearly 10,400 people, around half of these being women.
Each Hearing opened with a moment of reflection followed by a speech from the chair. In Potkakhali and Kacharibari, local singers performed folk songs while people started to gather. At Lalpur and Dhamuirhat, children from local high schools were present to sing the national anthem. A passage from the Qu’ran was recited before proceedings began, in Dhamuirhat a passage from the Bible was also read.
Clearly the participants and organizers of these Hearings sense that the threat of Climate Change and seasonal instability is not just to individual livelihoods and safety, but also to Bangladesh’s culture, collective spirit and nationhood. Testimony giver Safura Begum, aged 70 from from Shyamnagar, Satkhira recalled said she had “seen the British regime, and the Pakistan regime, and now the Bangladesh regime, but I have never seen this type of extreme weather before. The area where I have lived during my life has become a barren land for all of us.”
A sense of the broad impact of Climate Change was reflected in the backgrounds and expertise of members of Hearing panels. They represented government, development foundations, women’s groups and civil society. Journalists, teachers and business people sat alongside farmers, fishermen, village chiefs and activists as witnesses to Climate Change delivered many passionate and detailed testimonies.
Whether speaking in Jamalpur or Jessore, a similar set of experiences of devastation and disruption, and shared concerns and hopes for the future emerged from each Climate Hearing. Key problems that were consistently raised were those of water logging, drought, heavy rainfall (and accompanying flash floods and storms) as well as the increased salinity of fresh water supplies. A farmer, Moahammad Rafikul Islam from the Jamalpur district said; “now I am compelled to catch fish because I have lost my land due to Climate Change. Farming is becoming difficult; my chickens are dying in the increasing hot weather. I have lost 30 chickens in the heat stroke. Trees are dying, floods and storms are hitting us directly.”
Besides the devastation of conventional farming practice and large-scale migration to safer regions, other impacts of climate change include decreased school attendance as families struggle to generate a consistent income from farming and poor health, especially among women and children as working conditions become unbearable and waterborne diseases spread to new regions.
Several organisations were instrumental in organising this successful set of Hearings, including the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), Gono Unnoyon Kendro, ASRP, the Agriculture Sustainable & Socio-Economic Development Organization (ASSEDO), Varendra Campaign group, Development Wheel (DEW), and Asray.
More Hearings are being planned for later in the year where further evidence of the Human Impact of Climate Change can be gathered. Put simply by Safura, what most of the testimony givers want is to ‘survive in our grandfathers’ land’.