Pro-poor urban adaptation to climate change in Bangladesh : a study of urban extreme poverty, vulnerability and asset adaption
Hossain, Md. Zakir
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This dissertation investigates pro-poor urban adaptation to climate change in Bangladesh. Dhaka city, a capital of Bangladesh, is widely recognised to be one of the most climate vulnerable mega cities in the world. Climate change impacts are likely to affect the poorest urban residents disproportionately as having the least capacity to adapt to a changing climate. However, the assertion that the poorest are the most vulnerable to climate change is commonly made as a generalisation, with limited examination of the dynamic and differentiated nature of poverty. This research therefore aims to examine pro-poor urban adaptation in the context of climate variability and change. In analysing climate change vulnerability and asset adaptation from urban extreme poverty, this research identifies a differentiated view of poverty and vulnerability and also provides an analysis of how extreme poor households get access to assets and build asset adaptation strategies. This research found that extreme poor households do their best to adapt to perceived climate changes, but in absence of savings, access to credit and insurance, they are forced to adopt adverse coping strategies. Social policy and social protection could therefore become more of a priority sector for adaptation than it has been so far. This can create opportunities for the poorest to accumulate assets which help them to build asset adaptation or resilience strategies. By reviewing key theories and practices, this research first addresses the question of whether there is any interrelation between poverty dynamics and vulnerability. The research then explores drivers of climate change vulnerability for the urban extreme poor. This research critically analyses autonomous adaptation and planned asset based adaptation in order to build a conceptual framework of pro-poor asset adaptation for the urban extreme poor households and groups. Following this framework, this research aims to identify the individual adaptation practices and role of institutions and policies in supporting or constraining these adaptation practices. This research also examines the role of social policy and social protection for pro-poor adaptation. The research then applies the concepts drawn from a critical literature review to analyse the context of Bangladesh. Thus, the research has conducted household life-history interviews to explore the vulnerabilities and asset adaptation strategies of the extreme poor households. To understand household asset endowments (and their returns) descriptive statistics are derived from secondary sources. In addition to household interviews, key informant surveys, focus group discussions, grey materials and analysis of secondary academic materials were analysed to acquire qualitative information on the role of formal and informal institutions and policies for adaptation practices. The household life-history findings support the idea that poverty traps are likely to be linked to vulnerability. The empirical evidence also shows that there is a clear relationship between vulnerability to the market (exclusion from market opportunities), low asset holdings (and their returns) and ill-health. The slums and squatter settlements in Dhaka city are marked by high levels of physical vulnerabilities in the context of climate change, mainly as a consequence of their high politico-legal and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. The individual adaptation practices are impact-minimising, short lived, ad hoc and even harmful measures because the urban poorest are excluded from formal policies and institutions and in the absence of formal rights and entitlements, the process of facilitating and maintaining patron–client relationships is a central coping strategy for the poorest. The social policy and social protection are found to be effective in facilitating asset adaptation for the urban extreme poor and contribute to greater resilience to climate change. Analysing the empirical evidence through the lens of the pro-poor asset adaptation framework, this research reveals that the asset transfer approach was an effective programmatic intervention for building household adaptation strategies. Social funds and supports to community driven development can enhance the capacity of community organisations to develop small infrastructures that actually stops or greatly reduces flooding. However, challenging the adverse structural context is not a matter of building at a household and collective level assets but also capacity to participate in and influence the institutions from which they have previously been excluded. Attention must be paid to building a strong collective organisation in order to break the existing social order and inequalities. The city and municipal government can create an enabling environment for this grassroots mobilisation by providing services and information, and ensuring their access to the decision making process. A combination of micro (household), meso (community) and macro (city and municipal) level asset-based actions can ensure the long term resilience of extreme poor households and groups.