Climate change and sustainable development in CHT
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) has the country’s largest concentration of ethnic population. Their land use systems are multifarious with various land use patterns. As a result of socio-ecological changes, particularly forest ecosystems and demographics, sustainable farming practices, including rationalization of jhum, have become imperative. Migration of local people is increasing due to constraining economic development, decreasing land productivity and lack of employment opportunities among others.
The CHT forests comprise nearly 43 percent of the country’s forest area with their ability to support multi-storey biodiversity as part of the evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. But the CHT forests are degrading due mainly to biotic pressures, and inadequate land-use management.
Dr. Ram A. Sharma, chief technical specialist at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Bangladesh, included the above statements in his keynote paper on the CHT development issues recently. He further said, “Mountains and hills including the CHT are increasingly coming under threat from climate change, watershed degradation, deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources, and disasters. Accelerated glacial melting brought about by rising temperatures is affecting fresh water supplies for local people, thereby increasing the overall vulnerability of hill people to face poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, hunger, and migration.”
Out-migration from hills is increasing as the climate vulnerability of hill people grows and disasters become more frequent and intense. So, adapting human-induced climate change, preventing landslide, disasters and other natural calamities must be priority agenda. Active participation of local people, increasing awareness among them and outreach campaigns need to undertake to make sure sustainable development. Local community should be motivated to follow sustainable hill land-use practices including sustainable farming.
Dr. Ram Sharma recommended to developing climate-resilient structures and facilities for socio-economic growth with renewable energy such as solar energy and hydroelectricity. Mobilize and organize communities including women and youth, implement resilient livelihoods, value chains with market linkages and relevant facility development. Invest in poverty eradication, non-farm agricultural activities, creating employment, community education, skill development, health, food security and nutrition. Promote eco tourism, other services and products including medicinal plants. Support policy, planning, coordination, capacity development and other technical assistance for institutions, and people in the CHT.
Recently, the Ministry of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MOCHTA) and Nepal-based regional think tank International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) organized a closing event in Dhaka of a pilot project that they jointly implemented in Bandarban, name of the project: "Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica)". A good number of climate and development experts joined and spoke at the event regarding climate change and sustainable development. They recommended that the CHT must be a model of development. A master plan is required for the long-term development of the CHT. Encouraging private sector partnership and culinary tourism required to be popularized. Healthy mountain environment must be ensured including other development issues.
Involvement of local people, including women is a must in all development programs, decision-making, and project implementation. The socio-political condition/ situation is not same in the three hill districts of the CHT: Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhori. That is why an integrated/comprehensive program and policy must be formulated for the sustainable development in the CHT.
The experts further recommended that producers must be marketers. Community engagement/ involvement must be encouraged. The CHT requires infrastructure development. The people of the CHT demanded that the Himalica project should be extended for the next five or six years. Promotional campaigns should be undertaken to encourage tourists from foreign countries. An inclusive, equitable, and responsive tourism required to be established.
At the event, Mr. Sudatta Chakma, Additional Secretary to MOCHTA, said, “The hills are the power, resources, and wealth of the people. And the development of the CHT would help promoting cultural exchange both nationally and globally. Marketing of the hill products and produce should be branded. Marketing access and facilities should be extended for the produce of marginalized people including women must be given top priority. If the mobility of women even from the hard to reach areas of the CHT increased, their engagement in the market would be very beneficial to them. They may get update and latest status of the market price of their products, also to build network with other entrepreneurs. It would help them getting fair price and earning more money through selling their products and produce. Women entrepreneurship obviously is an integral part of the sustainable development in the CHT in terms of economy, health, education, food, nutrition, and fighting worst impacts of climate change.”
The government of Bangladesh and the development partners should communicate with other stakeholders to work together/ jointly. Three Hill Districts (Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhori) Councils' involvement in project implementation is very important. It is for optimizing local participation and benefits to promote a popular brand and image. All the districts councils must have organogram.
Considering all the issues, while contacted, Dr. David Molden, director general of ICIMOD said, “The ICIMOD and MOCHTA have teamed up to promote sustainable tourism development in Ruma Upazila in Bandarban. It was very successfully implemented by the European Union-supported Himalica Initiative, which pilots ways to adapt to climate and other changes across the mountain areas of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Because of its natural beauty and unique cultures, the area has all the potential for a thriving, sustainable tourism industry, with the local citizens prospering and sharing in the benefits of tourism. The knowledge and experience gained has the potential to benefit the two other hill districts Rangamati and Khagrachhori, which also have tourism potential.”
Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhori are the heart of the CHT. They are natural, harmonious, adventurous, authentic, healthy, and uncomplicated.
Therefore, both the government and other stakeholders should increase the capacity to develop policies adapted to impact on rural mountain livelihoods, taking socio-economic and climatic drivers of change into account.
It is urgently required to raise awareness, communicate knowledge on the effects of climate and socio-economic changes, and adaptation responses in the CHT. There is a need for generating both traditional and evidence-based knowledge on adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
Demonstrating ‘proven’ technologies, good practices to strengthen the resilience of poor, vulnerable mountain people and development of supporting capacity across the region are the demands of time. Scaling up climate-resilient technologies and good practices for improving the resilience of hill communities of the CHT would work as a foundation step in the direction of its sustainable development.
The writer is a journalist.