“Floating Homes” versus COVID-19 in Bangladesh

COVID-19 is changing how people across the world live together. Bangladesh is no exception. Working lives and workplaces have undergone major changes, and the progress of our RISK Award Project “Floating Homes” has consequently suffered in many ways.

Bangladesh has been hit hard by coronavirus. By October 2020, the country had seen 6,000 fatalities and about 400,000 cases of infection. Compared with Europe, the wave of infections started much later in Bangladesh and daily infection numbers of over 1,000 and rising were not reached until mid-May, peaking at around 4,000 in early June. Thanks to strict safety measures put in place, it was possible to reduce the figures from mid-June onwards and Bangladesh has since not seen cases rise in the same magnitude as in Europe. A second wave has (so far) failed to materialise and in October the number of new daily infections remained at about 1,500. This is a remarkably low figure for a densely populated country of over 160 million inhabitants.  
RISK Award 2019 Bangladesch
When developing a concept for a "Floating Community Centre", children's voices should also be heard. Inclusion of all population groups is important.
The strict safety measures also prohibit people from travelling and visiting friends and relatives. A lot of communities – many without adequate healthcare – continue to cut themselves off from the outside world. This has also had consequences for our RISK Award Project “Floating Homes”, whose fieldwork in the communities of Bangladesh has been put on hold since the spring. Project lead Roufa Khanum, CEO of Resilience Solution, agrees: “COVID-19 is a massive hindrance to research and fieldwork. All workshops that we wanted to conduct with community representatives had to be cancelled. Switching to digital media is not a viable option in the regions we work in, as many people don’t have electricity or internet and very few own a computer.”
She goes on to say that the project is not just about conveying information. The “Floating Homes” project should excite people and motivate them to think about alternative living concepts. The ultimate aim of the project is not for the NGO Resilience Solution and Dundee University to put in place a finished floating community centre in Kutubdia, Cox's Bazar. It is more about developing and implementing concepts in a participatory process with the village community. To realise this approach requires social cooperation, mutual exchange and understanding. And you can’t do that by communicating on a virtual level. “Acceptance of “alien” ideas from afar diminishes with purely digital contact and makes implementation of innovative projects so much more difficult”, says Khanum.
RISK Award 2019 Bangladesch
The new building shall provide an educational and meeting place. Meetings with the villagers played an important role in the planning. Due to COVID-19 this is unfortunately not possible at the moment.
A third point that concerns Khanum and her team is the new prioritisation of topics. Bangladesh was and remains a forerunner on the subject of climate change. That is why the “Floating Homes” project attracted such interest in the region. The people there know that they will have to adapt to the consequences of climate change – in their case coastal erosion, heavier flooding, stronger cyclones and changing monsoon patterns. But COVID-19 has changed people’s worries and fears. Adapting to climate change is now taking a back seat as the pandemic takes hold. Roufa Khanum confirms this: “If this phase lasts too long, we will lose a lot of valuable time. Climate change won’t wait until humanity has conquered COVID-19.”
RISK Award 2019
The participatory approach is more time-consuming, but increases credibility and ownership. This social interaction can hardly be organised digitally.
Together with our project partners, we hope that we can resume our work with the communities in Bangladesh in the first quarter of 2021. Our objective remains to develop a viable concept for an innovative floating, disaster-resilient community centre and – if possible – to realise this ambition in a pilot scheme. One thing is certain: the negative effects of climate change are becoming ever more evident – especially in Bangladesh.  
Christian Barthelt, 27 November 2020