News / 13 August 2021

Food sovereignty in the polders of Southwest Bangladesh

The situation in the southwest delta of Bangladesh is critical. Because of sea level rise, floods are increasing and the area is about to become uninhabitable, despite Dutch-style dikes and polders built in the previous century. Partner organisation Uttaran works with local communities on climate-friendly solutions that restore the living environment and give the inhabitants a say about their future and food production.

The southwest of Bangladesh is a low-lying delta. It is naturally fertile because of the frequent floods during which sediments are deposited on the agricultural land. However, after heavy floods during the 1950s, a large part of the area was empoldered, with the help of Dutch expertise.

How the past influences contemporary food sovereignty

The current generation of coastal people increasingly has to deal with the negative consequences of the decisions made over half a century ago. The river sediment has nowhere to go, raising the river water level above that of the polders. For most of the year, the water is trapped within the dikes and no fertile sediment is deposited. This is why the surface area of the agricultural land is not only becoming smaller, but also less fertile. As a result, harvests have been decreasing for decades.

Because the inhabitants of the delta were not involved sufficiently in the decision-making at the time, the food sovereignty of the current inhabitants is now under pressure. Many communities are becoming less and less self-sufficient and more and more dependent on uncertain and temporary jobs in the cities for their income.

Restoring the balance of power

Both ENDS' partner organisation Uttaran is devoted to restoring the historically skewed power relations. They advocate tirelessly for the adoption of a traditional way of Tidal River Management in the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP2100) and the inclusion of local communities in its design and implementation.

It is up to the Bangladeshi government, but also to their Dutch partners – the Dutch water sector is still closely involved in water management in Bangladesh – to respond to the demands of the local communities from southwest Bangladesh with whom Uttaran has been working for decades. Especially in the face of climate change and rising sea levels, this is a matter of absolute urgency.


World Water Week Session "The politics of water and the choices we can make"

Jahin Shams Sakkhar of Uttaran is one of the speakers at the World Water Week session which will be led by Both ENDS on 23 August. Among other things, this session is about the importance of power relations in water management, with examples from Bangladesh, Kenya, Canada and Nepal.

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