A fisherman in Singpur explains how the monsoon period impacts life in the community.
A solid stone wall protects wide stretches of Singpur's shoreline against erosion.

Resilience Academy 2015 – Loss and Damage

The Resilience Academy 2015 brought 30 young researchers from 15 countries together. Not only were reputed scientists on board but also representatives from groundwork organisations such as USAID, GIZ and Caritas, and also journalists. The goal was to jointly analyse the "Loss and Damage" programme of the UN Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC) and to develop solutions for urgent issues.

What does Loss and Damage meant in the context of climate?
Adaptation to environmental risks and the prevention of climate-related greenhouse gases (mitigation) are areas that have been relatively well researched. However,  these terms are also finding their way into public media coverage outside the realms of politics and scientific discourse. The question is: what happens if adaptation and mitigation do not have the desired effect? If, despite the CO2 reductions, the two-degree limit cannot be maintained, thus leading to the threat of further risks? What if protective mechanisms, such as warning systems against droughts, floods and storms, prove inadequate? 

Environmental changes can take place very quickly, societies that are affected by them often cannot adapt quickly enough. This often applies to poor people in the developing countries. Losses and damage will inevitably occur – in the worst case this can even be the complete loss of property, land masses or entire systems. 

"The purpose of adaptation and mitigation projects is to prevent loss and damage," stated Prof. Saleem Huq from Bangladesh. However, as we cannot expect that they will always be successful, the international community needs a plan. A framework must regulate what happens in the case of damage and loss in the context of climate change. The questions are obvious: who is responsible, who provides funding? How can the losses be defined and when are they considered unavoidable? "Damage to social structures or ecosystems are practically unquantifiable," was one conclusion reached by the Academy participants. "I am very satisfied with the Academy," said Dr. Saleemul Huq, the Director of the Academy, who is also an important political representative in Bangladesh. We will now certainly be drafting more than ten policy-relevant publications and recommendations for the political establishment (Policy Briefings). Dr. Huq plans to submit the most important findings to the COP 21 UN Climate Change Conference in December. "We need quick decisions, we are up to our necks in trouble," warns Huq. He is also convinced, however, that the world can learn a lot from Bangladesh. "And this will also help the other developing countries experiencing climate change."

Singpur village – Loss and Damage at first hand
Singpur is a community in Bangladesh located roughly 100 km to the north of the capital city of Dhaka. During the monsoon session, the plains around the village are not only flooded across areas of many kilometres but also for many months at a time.  Singpur becomes an island. For the inhabitants, this means that they must completely reorganise their means of subsistence once every year. 

Most of the population works in agriculture during the flood-free time period. The dominant products are rice, potatoes and fruit. During the monsoon season, fishing is the main source of income. Everyone's income depends very strongly on the environmental factors. If there is too much or too little rain, this can quickly lead to enormous income losses. One fisherman told us: "Every four years or so, we cannot make a living here in Singpur. Then families go to Dhaka to pursue other occupations."  

Usually people leave the village in May before the monsoon begins and stay in the cities for five to seven months. Afterwards they return – only approximately 10 to 15 per cent leave the island permanently. Efforts have been made in Singpur to adapt to the conditions. A high wall has been built along a long stretch of the shoreline to halt the flood waves and prevent erosion. The people living in this area are today at significantly lower risk of losing their house, their cows, or even their lives to the floods.

However, the wall only protects a part of the island, the community regularly loses between 20 and 40 houses during major floods. The years 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2015 were particularly catastrophic. The adaptation measures do not go far enough. Due to the composition of the subsoil and the violent storm surges, in some other areas it is either not possible or of no practical value to erect a protective wall. Damage and losses continue to threaten in the future. "It took years until the government financed the first dike with the help of aid organisations and the municipal authorities. Who pays for the damage on the other side?" a fisherman asked us. So far, no one. As a rule, the residents rely on themselves and their families. Sufficient social security systems have not been put in place. Due to the enormous population pressure – in Singpur some  15,000 to 20,000 people live in 1,500 households  – the residents are forced to even settle in areas that are not good locations. Even though they must rebuild their homes there every year, over and over again.

The example shows that efficient or adequate adaptation is not possible without money. For poor communities, in particular, it is of immense importance to be able to fall back on alternatives. The United Nations are trying to create the requisite framework conditions with their Loss and Damage programme.

The Resilience Academy is jointly organised by ICCCAD, UNU-EHS and Munich Re Foundation. The participants form groups that in the course of the coming year will draw up working papers on Loss and Damage for integration into important processes such as the UNFCCC process. Selected papers will be published in indexed journals.

CB, 23 September 2015

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