Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 17:18 UK

UK gives Bangladesh climate help

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Villagers stand on crumbling river bank
Loss of land is an annual reality for many Bangladeshis

The UK is giving 75m ($133m) to Bangladesh to help it prepare for the impacts of climate change, the government has announced.

The money will go on measures such as protecting houses, schools and farms against flooding, and introducing new crop strains.

Aid agencies have welcomed the move but say poorer countries will need much more money to adapt to climate change.

UN resources for climate adaptation are badly under-funded, they say.

"This is very welcome news," said John Magrath, programme researcher on climate change with Oxfam.

The resources currently available for adaptation are grossly inadequate
Mirza Azizul Islam,
Bangladesh government advisor

"But more money will be needed to combat impacts of climate change - that's indisputable - and it should be new money, because it should be compensation for changes we've caused through our industrialisation," he told BBC News.

Oxfam believes - as do some other organisations - that about $50bn per year is needed globally to help poorer nations "climate-proof" their societies and economies.

Floating ideas

"Climate change is today's crisis, not tomorrow's risk and is already affecting millions of people in Bangladesh," observed the UK's International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander.

"But Bangladesh is resilient, and is setting an example to other vulnerable countries with its innovative approach to adapting to the changing climate."

Mr Alexander formally announced the funding at a conference in London which also saw the presentation of Bangladesh's national strategy on climate adaptation.

Floods are already part of life for the world's seventh most populous country. The problem is expected to become more serious as global warming induces a strengthening of tropical storms and the monsoon.

Seeds growing
Decayed water hyacinths are rolled into fertile balls for seed growing

Some of the UK funding would be used to put existing classrooms - and new ones - on stilts or floating platforms, said Chris Austin, head of the Department for International Development's (DfID) Dhaka office.

"That way, if the area becomes flooded, the schools don't become unusable," he told BBC News.

"The government is also talking about building multi-purpose cyclone shelters that could also act as clinics or schools.

"Other proposals in Bangladesh's climate action plan include raising the level of polders (sea defences) in the Bay of Bengal, increasing the height of embankments that protect residential areas or lands where crops are grown, and the introduction of seeds tolerant to salt or arsenic."

Regions of Bangladesh are already using water from tube wells that is contaminated with arsenic, a legacy of previous rural development initiatives; whereas salt intrusion into fields is likely to become a more serious problem as sea levels rise.

Funding 'failures'

"Least Developed Countries (LDCs), including Bangladesh, need immediate international support to build their resilience to global warming and climate change," said Mirza Azizul Islam, finance adviser to the Bangladesh government.

"The resources currently available for adaptation are grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the LDCs who bear the brunt of increased climate variability and unpredictability resulting from climate change."

The UN has established two funds - the Least Developed Countries and Special Climate Change funds - to raise money to help countries such as Bangladesh to adapt, but the amounts of money pledged have been small.

"The UN funds so far have been failures," said Mr Magrath.

"They've been based on the old model of aid, with donors and recipients, and they've been voluntary, so they do not have in them anywhere near the amount of money that's needed.

"That's a tragedy, because it means good adaptation plans are not being funded, and it's made developing countries like Bangladesh very suspicious."

The new UK money, by contrast, will be managed by a "multi-donor trust fund" in Bangladesh and used to support government initiatives.

Some of it will explore ways in which Bangladesh could make use of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a Kyoto Protocol designed to use money from the international carbon market to aid low-carbon development in poorer nations.

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