Ensuring water security for ethnic minority communities in CHT

The ethnic minority people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts already apply the methodology of Nature Based Solutions and Locally Led Adaptation in order to adapt to climate change

Md Lutfor Rahman. Sketch: TBS

People living in remote areas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are more vulnerable to lack of adequate and safe water. Many people are experiencing severe water shortages due to the degradation of natural resources, including streams, and the unsustainable depletion of forest resources.

This situation worsens in the dry season and persists from February to May due to a reduction in natural stream flow. During the monsoon, when the streams are at their most turbid from heavy mud deposition, communities are again unable to access the water.

Nowadays, the increased susceptibility to droughts, floods, and irregular rainfall caused by climate change is most remarkable in hilly areas.

Water security and climate change are two significant issues facing humanity, including ethnic minority people, worldwide, especially in climate-vulnerable areas like Bangladesh, where approximately 1,586,141 indigenous people live, including the Marma, Tripura, Mro, Baums, Chakmas, Tanchangya, Bawm, Koch, Khyang Luhsai.

According to the 2011 population census, they represent 1.8% of the total population in Bangladesh. They are heavily dependent on natural resources for their water and other benefits, which are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

According to the United Nations World Water Development Report, 42% of the world’s population will be affected by water scarcity within 2050, while in some areas it will be 95%.

Ethnic minority communities are on the frontlines of climate change and have adapted to the challenging water scarcity situation, adapting local knowledge to fulfil their safe water demands, thereby tackling climate change impacts. By using their local knowledge, they collect water from a natural stream throughout the year, even in the dry season.

First they set up a small water reservoir tank with a filter-attached plastic pipe on the top of the hill, almost where the natural stream starts. A line from that main reservoir is connected to another mountain reservoir placed relatively lower.

Two or three pipelines are connected to the second reservoir tank. This way, water flows directly to various places in the community, from where the local people can collect the water.

To make the initiative sustainable, they collect a certain amount of money from the beneficiaries who source water from the public watering hole. The deposited money is used to maintain and repair the water system.

They also believe that if the forest and the natural stream are peaceful, the flow of water will continue. They believe that the natural stream’s flow will be disrupted by any harmful intervention in the forest, which would prevent them from getting sufficient water from that source.

This way, they use the Locally Led Adaptation (LLA) approach, in which local knowledge and simultaneous participation of the local communities are used to adapt to climate change. They are also taking direct action to protect, restore, and manage natural forests to ensure water security, which is a Nature-Based Solution (NBS).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines NBSs as measures to preserve, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that efficiently and adaptively solve societal concerns, advancing people and the environment.

At the same time, LLA is based on more granular, firsthand local knowledge from both women and men, as well as other social groups, and is foundational for designing and implementing successful adaptation strategies.

The terms LLA and NBS have no particular meaning to local people, but they are already being practised collectively to achieve water security. But if local communities want to scale up their approaches, they will need external financial and technical support. Without financial support, adaptation cannot be taken to the next level.

Secondly, participation and planning are needed for longer-term planning and engagement at the local level.

Thirdly, there should be opportunities to increase private sector investment to support adaptation at the local level.

Fourthly, the monitoring, evaluation, and learning of combined LLA and NBS approaches offer an opportunity to bring insights from the local level to global levels.

Whereas LLA prioritises bottom-up decision-making and uses fewer resources, achieving more with less, NBS helps protect ecosystem services.

Originally this blog was published on November 07, 2022  on The Business Standard Website.

About the Author

Md Lutfor Rahman is working as a Research Officer at International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Independent University Bangladesh.