Facilitating Access to Sandbars in Bangladesh
Practical Action is working to facilitate access to common property resources for the ultra poor in Bangladesh living on flood protection embankments close to the edge of rivers. Every year millions of people are affected by sudden shifts in the river courses that destroy their crops, farm land and homestead land. In other words, livelihoods of people are washed away leaving them in a state of dire poverty and in the absence of any interventions they find themselves helpless and without much support to recover.
The areas, which are vulnerable to erosion, consist of the long river banks, charland (relatively stable places made up of the deposit of sand and soil over a period of time) and sandbars. Sandbars are large, temporary, barren lands made of the sand and silt deposited as rivers change their course. They are home to millions of mostly poor Bangladeshis. During 1970-1990 on an average 350,000 people were displaced per year due to erosion of rivers’ . Over the past two decades, it is estimated that there are about 7 million people in the ranks of displaced river eroded people.
Traditionally sandbars are seen as infertile and so there is no competition for the use of this land. Growing crops on the sandbar therefore provides an opportunity for landless families to access common property resources. Poor farmers have been helped to develop techniques to grow pumpkins here, providing one solution to help them overcome 'monga' (the seasonal food crisis). It is hard to escape from or withstand a danger, such as a flood, without sufficient nourishment or income and so access to this common property resource is an important source of livelihood security for the ultra poor who have little else from which to build a livelihood.
This project is called ‘Pathways from Poverty: Building Economic Empowerment & Resilience for Extreme Poor Households in Riverine areas of Bangladesh’. It builds on the successes of previous projects in Bangladesh and has introduced proven income generating opportunities for the extreme poor in monga prone riverine areas in the northwest region of Bangladeshin Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Rangpur and Lalmonirhat districts adjacent to the Brahmaputra and Tista rivers. Annual food security for the most vulnerable river eroded displaced people is a key aim of the project and enabling access to common property sandbars (there is approx. 74,000 ha in the target districts) and other underutilised resources.
Access to common property is one pathway from extreme poverty; the project also includes training in food and diversified income-generating activities and is working at the household level to strengthen disaster resilience, as well as establishing links to markets and other basic services in a holistic approach.