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12th International Session of IAGF-IFGR members in Bangladesh

Bangladesh le 20/10/2023

Some information and figures about Bangladesh

* This south Asian country located at the north of the Gulf of Bengal is almost an enclave of India.

* More than 90% of its territory is occupied by the Ganges Delta (formed by the confluence of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna), a fertile plain subject to tropical typhoons and floods during the monsoon season.

* 10% of the territory lies below sea level. Due to climate change, the country could lose 20% of its territory to rising water levels.

* With 1,286 inhabitants/km2, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

* This parliamentary democracy has been independent since 1971, following a bloody war of liberation in which the Bengali rebels fought the central Pakistani government. It had already undergone two partitions: in 1905, during the division of Bengal, and in 1947, when Eastern Bengal was merged with Pakistan while Western Bengal was merged with India, which had become independent.

* Population (World Bank 2022): 171 million Bangladeshis, of which 98% are Bengalis.

* Capital: Dhaka (more than 20 million inhabitants).

* Official language: Bengali.

* Religions: Islam (nearly 90%), Hinduism.



IFGR’s team of experts went to Bangladesh from 15 to 22 October to fulfil a double mission: hold the 12th international session of our association and discover in the field the actions carried out by Friendship, an NGO that has been working in the country for 22 years (see the interview with its founder Runa Khan AJOUTER LIEN ITW).

This was the occasion for IFGR’s experts to deepen their knowledge of the country’s climatic, social and economic issues, linked to its specific geographic situation, among other things, and also to discover the many projects carried out by Friendship to aid local communities. It was a rewarding session and the source of future projects.

The chars, sand islands in the north of Bangladesh forever exposed to climatic variations

The journey started in the north of the country, close to the border with India, in the remote area of the chars. These alluvial islands are located on the Brahmaputra and their shapes vary in rhythm with the fluctuations of the river, which swells due to the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the monsoons, as well as to releases of water further upstream of the river (in India). The effects of floods and erosion have been exacerbated in recent years with extreme meteorological episodes. The inhabitants are obliged to move home regularly as their dwellings are swamped with water. Unimaginable for Westerners, these populations will have to move home several tens of times in their lifetimes, going to one island after another or attempting to go to the city to find more secure living conditions

Bangladesh is a country of adaptation. The population is not in a state of anticipation, nor one of self-pity. It has known how to adapt for decades in response to climatic events.

The chars are distant from both the cities and public services. Friendship, one of whose missions consists in supplying health services to the most disadvantaged, intervenes with floating hospitals that move from island to island. Well equipped, they make it possible to carry out analyses, provide care and follow-up, provide the inhabitants with drugs, and even perform certain operations in a dedicated room. The rationale of immersion within the communities lies at the heart of this NGO’s actions: closely aware of their needs, an attending health officer trained by the association provides first aid and advice to the inhabitants.

The same system functions for education, agriculture and legal advice: specialists qualified in a discipline train people on the islands so that they acquire certain skills that provide their community with the tools to strengthen their resilience and autonomy in the face of disasters. Thus, the teachers of the schools come from the communities themselves, and are trained by Friendship to learn the essential notions for teaching the youngest children, with methods and tools (sometimes computers) supplied by the NGO.

This increased autonomy is essential in Friendship’s holistic approach: the communities must not become dependent on the association or on international aid.

On the contrary, they must master targeted knowledge, obtain sustainable solutions adapted to climate change and to their daily problems, in particular incomes. Regarding farming, the methodology developed by Friendship permits, for example, performing a precise diagnostic of arable land, by mapping the floodable areas of an island and the level of erosion. The inhabitants co-construct systems adapted to their territory with the help of the association’s agronomists. On the Char Khamar Bashpata, the association’s integrated management model has taken the form of specific advice regarding the cultivation of ginger, for example, grown in pots. It can be moved in case of floods.

Friendship co-constructs global aid with the communities, adapted to their needs and specific geographic and agricultural characteristics, while ensuring them incomes in the long-term.

The Sundarbans invaded

by saltwater

After stopping off at Dhaka to attend a high-level conference at which IFGR’s members were able to interact with members of the government and scientists, the IFGR team moved on to discover the south of the country, in the Sundarbans National Park. Straddling the border between India and Bangladesh, this region laced by the countless branches and canals of the Ganges Delta and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It harbours many species of fauna and flora, especially the Bengal tiger (about 100 individuals have been counted).

Friendship launched a programme to replant the mangrove here. It forms a natural barrier against the tides and typhoons. The aim is to combat the saltwater that invades ever deeper inland due to the rise in the level of the Gulf of Bengal and the construction of dams on the Padma, on the Indian side of the border. Salinisation not only makes water unfit for consumption, it also transforms crops: it is no longer possible to grow rice and the land is progressively reassigned to breeding crabs and shrimps, which are more profitable, to the detriment of local small farmers who must migrate to the cities to work.

The NGO is also active regarding protection against typhoons, a scourge that strikes this region several times a year due to its geography. As typhoon shelters are often far away, Friendship makes available plans that use local building materials so that some families can build their own shelter capable of accommodating around twenty people in the case of a typhoon of low intensity.

What future for Bangladesh and the deltas in general?


This resilient population increasingly impacted by climate change raised several questions for IFGR’s experts. Although Friendship carries out many sustainable actions in favour of the most isolated and hard struck communities, the role of the Bangladeshi government remains primordial to ensure the protection of the population. What does it intend to do in the long-term for the increasingly numerous population obliged to move away?

The experts observed that certains systems were not up to facing th emagnitude of the problems encountered. The need to strengthen the level of cooperation subsits regarding :

  • Warning systems for the last miles and between countries sharing borders,
  • A long term-vision and managment plan for the basins
  • in-depth studies in relation with the ecosystemic services of rivers

IFGR is delighted to place its expertise in the service of Friendship and accomplish joint projects  in Bangladesh over time. IFGR also had promising exchanges with the Alliance Française and the French Embassy and is already considering international cooperation actions.

The road plan is in the process of being put together and should be implemented as from 2024, with actions to spread awareness, and place emphasis on local actions, hydro-diplomacy and education. As stated by Erik Orsenna, our President:

What is happening in the Ganges Delta is liable to occur in all the world’s deltas: rising seawater linked to climate warming and the resulting displacement of populations should incite us to consider the management of rivers in the long-term as much as migratory movements. Bangladesh is the laboratory of our weaknesses, and we must act collectively, with a global and prospective vision that is both local and international”.

Photos crédits : Laurent Weyl / Collectif Argos

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