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How vulnerable are Bangladesh’s indigenous people to climate change?

This working paper compares the vulnerability to climate change of Bangladesh’s indigenous people with that of the Bengali population of Bangladesh in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Analysis of this study is based on distinguishing between individual and spatial vulnerabilities to climate change. Individual vulnerability to climate change factor in levels of poverty, landlessness, and illiteracy. Spatial vulnerability to climate change study subjective exposures such as increased droughts, floods, landslides and cyclones across the two population groups. The findings of this study reveal that:

  • under the individual vulnerability to climate change, there are two individual vulnerability indicators that allow to disaggregate between tribal and non-tribal population: landlessness and illiteracy
  • estimates for the landless indicates that the average Bangladeshi’s tribal household seem to be less landless than the average Bengali household. Based on this indicator, the tribal population seem to be more capable to adapt to climate change than the non-tribal population
  • estimates for illiteracy indicate that the tribal population are more illiterate than the non-tribal population, which is likely to make them less capable adapting to climate change
  • looking at the spatial vulnerabilities, the review of a variety of hazard maps seems to indicate that both tribal and non-tribal populations are highly vulnerable to climate change-induced increases in droughts, floods, landslides and cyclones.

The following recommendations made are drawn from the results of the analysis. They include:

  • efforts should be intensified to increase enrolments to primary education and to improve the quality of primary education in the CHT
  • provide market-relevant skills training to the people to be less vulnerable to climate-induced impacts that are likely most severe in the agricultural sector
  • attempt to replace shifting cultivation with more productive types of sedentary agriculture by further improving the secure land rights, supportive trade policies, and the required support services and facilities including infrastructure
  • develop strategies for diversification of income sources for the tribal as well as the non-tribal people instead of remaining more dependent on agriculturally- and forest-based incomes
  • promote indigenous early warning indicators by incorporating into locally managed warning systems to increase the empowerment and resilience of poor and vulnerable people to climate change
  • undertake further measures to defuse the remaining ethnic conflict and social tensions between tribal and non-tribal people in the CHT, given that climate change impacts will inadvertently put stress on their peaceful coexistence.

In conclusion, this study emphasises the need for effective application of the broad suggestions made on adaptation strategies as well as the development of policy interventions to reduce climate change-induced vulnerabilities for indigenous people in the CHT.