Climate finance in Bangladesh: Where has all the money gone?

It was slippery in parts so she took my hand, steering me gently from one dry spot to the next. The path soon gave way to sludge, punctured with bricks for steppingstones. Her house was one of a cluster of three clay bungalows, perched upon a shimmering expanse of mud. Visiting this woman’s home was visiting a foregone conclusion. Before too long it will be underwater

Women walking on stepping stonesDacope is a small settlement in Bangladesh’s southern Khulna district, where the green on the map begins to tangle with a mesh of blue. Home to three large river systems, a low-lying delta plain and a lengthy coastline, Bangladesh is battling climate change on a number of fronts. In recent years it has suffered a higher incidence of tropical cyclones and the merciless tidal surges that follow. Bit by bit, it is also being closed in on by rising seawater, which seeps into the agricultural land, harming crops and sacrificing livelihoods. Despite the influx of millions of dollars of climate finance into Bangladeshi coffers, villagers here say they’ve seen no evidence of it.

“At the core of the strategy to face climate change is the potential availability of an unprecedented amount of resources. As we all know, more resources bring a greater scope and potential for corruption,” warns Iftekhar Zaman, Executive Director of Transparency International (TI) Bangladesh.

Corruption has long aggravated levels of social injustice in Bangladesh, depriving children of access to education, increasing poverty and hunger, and closing the door to basic healthcare provision, particularly for the poor. TI Bangladesh’s 2010 national household survey found that more than four out of five households encountered corruption when interacting with public services and state institutions that year.

Climate money may be relatively new to Bangladesh, but it will be flowing through familiar channels. Wary that funds risk being hijacked by corrupt interests, TI Bangladesh has begun shining a light on them, to ascertain where money’s coming from, how it’s managed, what it’s spent on and why.

Answers to these questions can be hard to come by, particularly at the contracting level. More often than not bidding processes are closed, exposing them to potential rigging or undue influence. To date there has been little sign of independent oversight or quality control during project implementation. Financial audits are reportedly rarely carried out, and when they are they usually occur after a project’s completion, once the money’s been spent.

Just south of Dacope we encounter a community of climate refugees. Forced out of their homes by intruding water, many have populated an old school house. Others have fashioned shelters from reeds and plastic sheeting. These people’s stories paint a dispiriting picture of levels of integrity in local government. A chunk of the money earmarked for flood defence measures has never materialised, they say. Some embankments were never built, others are not as high or robust as their blueprints prescribed. As such they’re ineffectual.

As rock sediment continues to course into Bangladesh’s flat plains in the south, sent by the melting Himalayan glaciers, it corrodes the riverbanks and basins, effectively turning once contained rivers into sprawling lakes. A local official tells us that budget allocations for dredging sediment here were directed elsewhere, and the work was never completed.

Disaster is advancing on Khulna district, announcing itself in sodden footpaths and bloated paddy fields. Climate finance needs to support people to adapt to climate change. No one can afford for that not to happen. The government of Bangladesh has expressed commitment to ensuring that processes of distributing funds are reformed so as to achieve broad-based social and environmental benefits. TI Bangladesh will be working with them and with local communities to help ensure that happens.

All photos by Alice Harrison.

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Alice Harrison

About Alice Harrison

Alice Harrison is Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for Transparency International's Climate Governance Integrity Programme.

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8 Responses to Climate finance in Bangladesh: Where has all the money gone?

  1. TheMushyPea 22 September 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Hi there. Excellent work. The situation seems dire. Just wondering – is it possible to quantify how much of the damage is due to climate change, and how much is due to deforestation both in Bangladesh and upstream, population growth and failure to maintain waterways? My concern is that many other environmental issues get pushed aside as climate change is an easy thing to blame, and in many ways can be used to avoid responsibility (by all sides!)..

  2. Alice Harrison
    Alice Harrison 22 September 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Thanks for the comment. All of these issues are very much interlinked, but corruption is a common thread. Bangladesh’s Sundarban mangroves in the south, for example, are capable of absorbing 30-40 per cent of the total force of a tsunami before it reaches populations inland. Due to unchecked illegal logging, however, the mangroves are rapidly depleting. Evidently this also has negative effects in terms of carbon capture. (You can read more about this in chapter 6 of TI’s 2011 Global Corruption Report). Failure to maintain waterways is in part also down to corrupt abuse, as are other forms of environmental degradation. Climate finance should, by defintion, not only help communities to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects but also help contribute to sustainable development more broadly.

  3. Mahfuz 22 September 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    It is really difficult to quantify the loss due to climate change as well as deforestation. climate change is natural induced event mostly accelerated by human activities, like huge deforestation. And deforestation in Bangladesh is mostly associated with corruption by the government officials,politicians and local influential people who exercise muscle power.Using the illegal power the cut the forest and grab it for their own purpose.there is a similar fashion in water sector in leasing out process of water bodies. As a result it is destroying the natural ecosystem and ecology and most dangerous effect is; reduction of ecological services for local people and loss of occupation in long run.

  4. Claire Martin
    Claire Martin 29 November 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Mahfuz. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experiences in Bangladesh. You may be interested to read some more in detph analysis that has been carried on the same topic by TI national Chapters in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, PNG and the Solomon Islands. You can read more on the FGI section of our website: http://www.transparency.org/regional_pages/asia_pacific/forest_governance_integrity/resources_and_publications.

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