Enhancing flood resilience in Bangladesh by engaging with the media

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Concern Worldwide – a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance – has been undertaking collaborations and dialogues with journalists in Bangladesh. In this new interview Afsari Begum, Programme Manager for Concern’s flood resilience work in Bangladesh, reflects on how this has the potential to improve the flood resilience of communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Tell us about the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance in Bangladesh.

The people with whom we are working live in chars (seasonal sediment islands on the Teesta River). They experience floods every year, particularly during the monsoon season. The people living here are very poor, and find it very difficult to cope with the challenges brought by repeated flooding.

We have seen that local government institutions don’t have adequate funding to spend on preparedness activities, nor on responding when the floods happen. The institutions also have gaps in awareness, capacity, and knowledge of what they can do to support community flood resilience. We are working from the local to the national level to call for an increased allocation of funds for flood-prone communities.

“Journalists have hands-on experience of reporting from these affected communities, and so their viewpoints were helpful to give the full picture.”

Afsari Begum

Why did you decide that engaging with journalists would help?

Engaging the media in our work has long been part of our strategy to ensure that voices which typically do not reach the decision-makers are highlighted. We really want the media to know what is happening with climate-vulnerable people; how climate change is impacting them, what are their sufferings and what needs to be done to help them.

We had a national dialogue in December 2021, which among other things discussed the capacities of local institutions such as the Union Disaster Management Committees. Prior to this we hosted two local-level dialogues in our programme areas of Gaibandha and Lalmonirhat. We had over 25 local journalists at each event, many of whom expressed their interest to provide wider coverage of community voices.

At the same time, we know that journalists have lots of information and knowledge about these issues from their experience on the ground, so we also wanted to hear from them. We were keen to hear their thoughts on how to maintain the focus on climate vulnerabilities after the disaster period, how the displacement of climate-affected communities can be addressed, and ways to enourage an increased allocation of funds.

We first presented the work that Concern is doing through different projects, including the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, but also in Scaling Up Flood Forecasting and action in Bangladesh (SUFAL II) and Improving the Lives of Urban Extreme Poor (ILUEP). We asked them what they thought we should do to support these vulnerable communities. It was not about us telling them ‘You should do this, or you should do that’; we wanted to know from them what they thought about the issues.

A raised tube-well in Vatikapasia, supported by Concern Worldwide’s Flood Resilience project. Photo: Moktar Hossain

What publications / media companies did the journalists come from and why did you choose those ones?

They came from print and broadcast media, both at the local and national level. We invited journalists with whom we were already involved, and who have an interest in climate change issues. In total we had representatives from ten electronic and fourteen print media organisations, including The Daily Observer, Bangla Tribune, 71TV, Channel I and Banglavision TV.

Had the journalists ever had this kind of interaction with an NGO before?

Not exactly. They expected that Concern might have called them because we wanted them to showcase our work, but for us this was not the agenda. The journalists have hands-on experience of reporting from these affected communities, and so their viewpoints were helpful to give the full picture.

For example, the journalists were able to tell us about people who left the chars and moved to urban areas in the hopes of finding a better life. Many of these people ended up in unhealthy, unhygienic slums without basic facilities, which left them exposed to other hazards such as fire, eviction and gender-based violence.

The journalists also noted the different challenges that men and women face. For example, a very common problem is that when there is a disaster, many men leave the local affected area to seek income-generating activities. The women left behind experience an increase in responsiblilities, and are now more vulnerable.

Did the journalists bring up any issues that you weren’t expecting? 

One thing they very rightly said was that when we are speaking of these issues, we really need to have concrete evidence. They wanted to see validated studies from national experts that they could cite in their reports.

The research and reports that the Alliance produces, such as the At What Cost report, have been valuable sources of evidence for the journalists, but they really emphasised the point to engage national experts in Bangladesh too, because they know the national context well and are trusted by the decision-makers. These national experts are at the frontline of the negotiating table, advocating to address climate change issues. When they say something, people listen.

The journalists also highlighted an issue that was raised previously by the Alliance in our post-event study in Faridpur: that not all the disasters are happening because of climate change. Some are happening because of human activity, such as the unplanned extraction of sand from rivers. These man-made issues also need to be addressed.

A raised, flood-resilient homestead in Charitabari, Sundarganj. Photo: Moktar Hossain

Do you think that you will do an engagement like this again in the future? 

This is just the beginning. The journalists all agreed that flood resilience budget allocation is an important issue that needs to be addressed. If they start writing on this, and working on this with the decision-makers, I think it will lead to significant changes in the long run.

Any final thoughts?

We all know that many people are trying very hard to adapt to climate change, but they lack resources, skills, knowledge, and capacities. If we all work together, we believe we can make positive changes in the lives of these vulnerable communities. We might not be able to stop the floods, but we can reduce the suffering.

Journalists can play an important role in this; they can be the ones who connect the decision-makers to those who have been affected. I really hope we can continue this work with the same motivation and inspiration, and make real and lasting change. 

Learn more about the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance’s work in Bangladesh.

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