On track with climate change
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Scientists from UiB have worked together with communities around Sylhet, in northeast Bangladesh, in search of new ways for understanding and adapting to the climate.
“The aim of the project has been to re-learn how to understand and anticipate this new climate, to develop strategies and concrete actions for long-term adaptation for the locals”, says Scott Bremer, researcher at UiB.
Bremer managed the inter-disciplinary team behind the TRACKS Project (Transforming Climate Knowledge with and for Society) that has led to some positive outcomes for adaptation for these Bangladeshi communities.
WORKING TOGETHER: Scott Bremer (left) wanted to test how scientists could work together with the local communities to produce high quality climate science when he was running the TRACKS project. Here he is in a tea-garden with his project partner Saifullah Bin Aziz.
Transforming climate knowledge
“Over the past years, the people in Bangladesh have experienced huge seasonal change. They used to think in terms of six seasons, but now they only have three and a lot more rain and flooding, which makes it difficult to plan around”, Bremer says.
Bangladeshi communities around Sylhet are highly dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, and have weak infrastructure for dealing with extreme weather events. This means that any variability in the weather can have serious impacts, ranging from low crop yields to flooding or the spread of infectious diseases.
The TRACKS project was focusing on communities in northeast Bangladesh, where there is high uncertainty about climate variability and change, particularly associated with the pre-monsoon and monsoon rains, and their impacts on the community. Bremer tells us that a wide range of research methods were used to mobilise old and new knowledge.
CLIMATE CHALLENGES: Bangladeshi communities around Sylhet are highly dependent on agriculture and have weak infrastructure for dealing with extreme weather events.
When the frog starts to croak
“We wanted to test how scientists could work together with the local communities to produce high quality climate science that draws on different types of knowledge, including local understandings of natural signs of the weather and seasons”.
Bremer says that being part of this project has taught him how valuable it is to being part of, and work in an trans-disciplinary environment.
“We sat scientists and local community members as peers. Together we mapped out what we knew about local rainfall in summer and the monsoon, how we could predict this rain, and what impacts it has. From this we decided on a list of gaps in our knowledge; things that we wanted to measure in the local area as ‘citizen scientists’. This ranged from typical meteorological measures like rainfall, temperature and humidity, to local and traditional indicators of rain, like cloud cover and the behaviour of animals and insects. This also let us test the reliability of these local indicators, for example to see if when the frogs start croaking, that it will start to rain”.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The locals were higly involved in the TRACKS project. Here we can see Babu Anjan Purkayastha, a citizen scientist, installing a rain-gauge that is made to be put on a roof top to measure rainfall and humidity.
Narrative story collection
An important starting point for the project was to collect stories about what the rains mean for communities, through interviews with the locals. That is, the importance of rain for their livelihoods, but also as part of their culture and understanding their place in the world. Mahmud, also part of the TRACKS project team, published a report from the field based on the collected narratives. In a section of this report, he explains how narratives brings an important aspect when we try to understand and interpret climate change in a broader perspective.
“The local people of a certain ecosystem know their stories very well. They remember what they experienced as children, what natural phenomena they experienced 20 or 30 years ago, and what changes they presently experience. They assess change and make predictions based on this knowledge in their story. The knowledge is very precise…[and it can compliment]…modern scientific study. This is why bringing together indigenous and scientific knowledge is essential for tracking local climate change in an ecologically diverse country like Bangladesh”.
Positive outcomes for adaptation
The TRACKS project measured a number of positive outcomes, through regularly assessing the projects impacts using interviews. Beyond collecting valuable scientific information, the project has also built capacity amongst the citizen scientists and their communities to make increasingly accurate weather predictions, and to use this information for adaptation in their everyday lives from farm management to planning travel.
Meteorological science in Bangladesh faces limitations, so the forecasts are not always very accurate at the village-scale. By empowering villagers with a portfolio of different climate knowledge, they have timely information at a much more detailed resolution.
“We see that many of the citizen scientists are able to make very accurate predictions by combining information from weather forecasts, temperature and humidity gauges they have at home, and their own reading of local signs, like where the clouds gather or the direction of the wind.”
MAPPING OUT: The scientists in the TRACKS project worked closely with the locals to find new ways of making climate science that draws on different types of knowledge, including local understandings of natural signs of the weather and seasons.
Further, the project measured changes to peoples’ adaptive actions based on their improved understandings and predictions. Bremer notes:
“There is evidence of more adaptive practices in the daily lives of citizen scientists and their communities. These include public actions, like warning the village of impending storms, helping poultry farmers regulate heat in the sheds, and informed decisions of where to build flood works. But also private actions of individuals; how the shop-owner reorganises his shop, or how a son dresses his invalid mother. These personal stories are really touching, and motivate me towards doing more of this research".
The facts on TRACKS
Three goals for TRACKS:
- A robust scientific understanding of climate variability in northeast Bangladesh and its impacts on communities, built on high quality climate and local knowledge.
- An innovative ‘post-normal science’ approach to mobilising climate knowledge for supporting ‘community-based adaptation
- Increased capacity within the communities of northeast Bangladesh to engage with different forms of knowledge in support of their adaptive action
- TRACKS was funded by The Norwegian Research Council, from 2014-2017