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Coping with riverbank erosion induced displacement

Each year, tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh are internally displaced as a consequence of riverbank erosion. Yet, such erosion does not draw the attention of policy makers in the same way that other natural disasters do and as a result, a number of coping mechanisms are employed by those affected, with the burden of displacement largely falling on women.

This brief argues that instead of attempting to alter the course of nature, it is time to address the institutional mechanisms needed to help affected people cope with displacement and their material and social loss. Policy and programme recommendations include:

  • the government of Bangladesh should include riverbank erosion in its five year plan and in its framing of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
  • it should also develop a national habitat policy that would ensure the shelter needs of the tens of thousands of people displaced each year
  • local government organisations should play the lead role in all phases – decentralisation of power and increased responsibility and accountability to local government bodies is an important aspect to reduce vulnerability and provide a quicker and more efficient response
  • efforts should be made to coordinate all aid and development interventions

It is asserted that programmes should be developed to cater to the needs of those affected. In addition, increased emphasis should also be placed on promoting a rights-based approach which encourages affected people to demand access to education, health care, water, sanitation and work opportunities as a matter of right, rather than charity from the state. A number of recommendations are given to this end.
The authors argue that, crucially, those affected need to be viewed as agents rather than simply subjects of rehabilitation programmes, asserting that only by constant promotion of their rights can their interests be protected.