In search of community resilience: The context of sea level rise and climate change in Bangladesh

Author: Roksana Tarannum

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 10 Apr 2025.

Tarannum, Roksana, 2024 In search of community resilience: The context of sea level rise and climate change in Bangladesh, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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While human civilization is witnessing the impacts of anthropogenic climate change as a dangerous reality, vulnerable communities experience its severity with the greatest magnitude. This is especially evident in a low-lying but densely populated country with a developing economy like Bangladesh where millions of people are exposed to extreme weather events, sea level rise (SLR) and salinity intrusion every year. Despite many policy interventions under international and national frameworks, the coastal communities of Bangladesh live with existential crises and an evolving trend of internal displacement in recent years. This raises a question as to what extent they are climate-resilient at present and how long they can withstand this ongoing stress. Based on the research conducted for examining community resilience in coastal Bangladesh, this thesis provides an assessment of the resilience of a highly vulnerable local community in southwest coastal Bangladesh to sea level rise and climate change and evaluates the determinants of community resilience to climate change. Despite the availability of numerous studies in climate science and on the impacts of and adaptation to climate change, climate resilience is much less explored in research. Further, most of the existing resilience literature deals with disaster and community. This thesis attempts to fill this gap through a comprehensive assessment of climate change resilience, specifically for coastal households and communities in the context of sea level rise, salinity intrusion and extreme climatic events. In this pursuit of resilience assessment, this research covers three major aspects of climate change, namely perception, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability, and also reveals the gaps and challenges in building community resilience.

Using a mixed methods approach, this investigation involves household surveys of a sample of 201 statistically selected households and in-depth interviews with 40 respondents representing households, government and non-government organisations, and local leaders. The study samples are selected from two of the most climate-vulnerable unions named Gabura and Padma Pukur of Shyamnagar upazila (subdistrict) under Satkhira district located in the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh. Based on the literature and inspired by the systems thinking approach, the research identifies some of the interconnected, core components of climate resilience and sets indicators specific to the context of sea level rise, salinity intrusion, and cyclones with tidal surges. The thesis has five primary objectives to satisfy the main research questions, namely (i) to assess the community’s level of climate change perception, (ii) to take stock of their adaptive capacity in terms of capital and capabilities, (iii) to identify adaptation practices for life and livelihood, (iv) to assess the households’ level of climate resilience, and (v) to identify the gaps and challenges for developing and improving community resilience. Given the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic that intersected with the extreme climatic events of floods and cyclones in the study area, a supplementary objective was added to investigate how a pandemic like COVID-19 exacerbates people’s climate vulnerability and the complexity of challenges.

The results show that households’ perception of climate change (CC) is in accordance with local climate data and almost all of the residents in the study area possess moderate to high levels of CC perception. Though they possess high levels of social and human capital, accessibility to weather forecasting and emergency notification, and shock recovery capacity, they suffer from poor levels of financial capital, physical capital and poor institutional support. People in the study area construct houses on elevated plinths to safeguard them from rising sea level and high tidal surges, and they follow seasonal migration practices for livelihood, harvest rainwater and do floating kitchen gardening or subsistence farming as adaptation strategies. Mobile phone is the most common means of keeping socially connected under extreme climatic events in this community. The Covid-19 pandemic added economic hardship and poverty to the existing climate vulnerability. It compounded people’s socioeconomic as well as physical vulnerability to the exposure of transmission and trauma and interrupted the government’s and NGO’s development activities in the area.

In this thesis, climate resilience of households has been assessed by using nine domains of variables including perception, forecasting and notification accessibility, resource availability, livelihood sustainability, withstanding ability (tolerance), wellbeing, adjustment capacity, community cohesion and institutional support, all comprising a total of 78 indicators. Despite all the climatic adversity and socioeconomic vulnerability, 15.4% of the sample households have a high level of overall resilience to climate change, whereas the majority, 59.7% have a medium level and 24.9% have a poor level of overall resilience. Poor infrastructure with an urgent need for permanent coastal embankment and paved roads, inadequate climate-resilient shelters, lack of income support, poor essential services, political interference and biases in aid distribution are identified as some of the gaps and constraints for resilience for the local community. While the government of Bangladesh has played a leading role in climate policies and pioneered a number of initiatives for climate action and sustainable development, the absence of local, context-specific adaptation and resilience planning, lack of community voice in the decision-making process, non-prioritisation of coastal vulnerability, issues of governance of Climate Change Trust Fund and scarcity of long-term finance are major challenges in resilience building and effective climate action for the country.

Keywords: resilience, coastal community, sea level rise, climate change

Subject: Geography thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2024
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Associate Professor Udoy Saikia