I thought the field trip would be nice escape from my routine in Dhaka but I never imagined it would become an inspiration to my work on loss and damage. More often than not, loss and damage is perceived as a calculation of monetary impacts following an extreme event, and more controversially as a method of compensation to developing countries. But what drew my curiosity the most on my field trip was exploring how local communities perceived their own losses and damages.
Our adventure began in the back of a microbus headed to Khulna. No one could have expected the ride we were about to embark on. The ride to the ADAMS guesthouse was absolutely stunning. The kilometers of fish and shrimp ponds we passed were all aligned with luscious green palm trees and every now and again we would catch a glimpse of a cow or a water buffalo grazing along the pathways. Not only was the ride picturesque, the goats sat in the middle of the road became an amusing inconvenience.
By the time we arrived to the first village the second morning, I was completely enamored with our surroundings. Being back in nature had reminded me why I’ve been passionate about climate change and development for the past three years. When we arrived at our destination we had to walk along the ponds to get to the village. It was a Hindu village and only thinking back on it do I realize they had a cow housed in a makeshift hut on a raised platform. In the other villages we visited, the cow was not only an symbolic animal for the community but also a source of fuel for their cooking stoves. But what captured our attention in this town was the aquaculture.
For about 30 minutes the group sat perched by the palm trees watching the fishermen cast their net that was the length of the entire pond. Extremely entertaining for me, at least, was watching the fish jump from either side of the net: it was something of a circus act. When they finally pulled their first catch of tiger prawns, they dragged their bucket to show us what they looked like. They explained to us these were still young, something in the range of 100 grams, and that they would grow to 300 grams. If you had asked me at that point how I could have related my own work to this, I think I would have been left speechless.
It was not until we started speaking to the women of this village did it occur to me: not only was flooding of the ponds during the monsoon period a great threat to their well-being but the conversion of land from rice paddies to aquaculture over the past two decades must have had a substantial impact on the traditions and livelihoods of those labourers. This conversation of aquaculture and its impacts on the land became a common theme within the discussions amongst the researchers this weekend. By the end of our trip, all the villages we had visited were involved in shrimp or fish cultivation for their livelihoods. While some villages were obviously better off than others, it was clear aquaculture had changed the physical geography of the land significantly. Speaking to experts we also learnt that the conversion from rice paddies to fish and shrimp ponds was often a one-way process. For the vast majority of farmers, saline water has been used to cultivate shrimp. This not only reduces the nutrient levels in the soil but also has made irrigation for crop cultivation nearly impossible. Most communities relied on nearby markets to provide them with a diversity of vegetables and fruits. This information raised an ongoing number of questions for us.
Since arriving back to Dhaka, an opportunity has arisen, almost by pure coincidence, that will give me the opportunity to return to the Khulna region and explore what losses and damages communities have faced since the introduction of aquaculture. While I expect many of the connections to be incredibly complex and their answers to be filled with contradictory statements, one thing is clear: at least for some people this conversion to aquaculture has been in their favour. The motivation for my research now is to understand for who, why, and at what expense.
By: Stephanie Andrei, Visiting Researcher, ICCCAD July Newsletter 2014
Photo Credit: Stephanie Andrei