On Sunday, 4 December 2016, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA), convened representatives from government, non-governmental organizations, academia, and private sector organizations in a day-long Bangladesh - ICIMOD Partnership Day to gather information to help plan ICIMOD’s new strategic framework. This framework will provide direction to ICIMOD’s mission and work for the next five years. In particular, the Bangladeshi organizations in attendance provided valuable in put on sustainable mountain development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
The Bangladesh-ICIMOD Partnership Day included two events. The first was a seminar on “Sustainable Development in Chittagong Hill Tracts: Inclusive Growth and Prosperous Society in Hills and Mountains” to discuss ways to break poverty and bring prosperity to Chittagong Hill Tracts as envisioned in the post-2015 development agenda.
With a strong economic performance and commendable achievements made towards fulfilling a number of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Government of Bangladesh is now committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Bangladesh is growing rapidly. The country is aiming to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty and inequality, and become a middle-income country by 2021, while creating a more inclusive and equitable society through the inclusion of ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities.
In his welcome remarks to the gathering, Dr David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD noted that this seminar is critical because it’s happening at a time when the Government of Bangladesh and ICIMOD are in the process of identifying shared opportunities for our future collaboration. He expressed hope that many interesting ideas would emerge from the seminar to help identify some clear areas of cooperation.
The call to expedite the pace of socio-economic development of CHT has indeed come from no other than the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh Madam Sheikh Hasina. She has made it very clear that the people of CHT must also be able to enjoy peaceful and prosperous life .
Like other mountainous and hilly areas of the region, the CHT also falls in the forefront of climate change, and is suffering from water shortages and an increase in weather-related disasters. Increased environmental degradation, decreased land holding per capita, and low socioeconomic development have left people struggling to adapt to climatic and socioeconomic changes.
Therefore, ICIMOD’s presence in Bangladesh is predominantly in the CHT. Here too, like in other member countries, we carry out our work with a variety of local partners.
One of ICIMOD’s successful strategic engagements with MOCHTA has been the development of “The Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts”. This Framework recognizes the geographic, cultural, and social specificities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and outlines its unique potential. ICIMOD worked with the Planning Commission to incorporate a hill perspective in Bangladesh’s 7th Five Year Plan.
As a Special Guest, Dr Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair, ICIMOD Programme Advisory Committee, gave a very personal account of her work and understanding of the development in Bangladesh spanning over the last three decades. Over this period, great achievements in terms of food security have been made. While in the 1970s Bangladesh relied heavily on international assistance, the country now is nearly self-sufficient in rice and other staple foods. Also, while Bangladesh – unlike the Himalayan countries – does not face Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), it faces increasing natural disasters, many of which originate in upstream areas with rivers that flow into Bangladesh. It is therefore important for countries to continue to explore upstream- and downstream-linkages and to strengthen their cooperation for DDR.
Mr Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, MP, Hon'ble State Minister, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs stated: the CHT region has been experiencing unusual rains, frequent incidents of drought, landslide and flood due to climate change.
‘Rivers and springs here are drying up here while agricultural production is falling sharply,’ he said, calling upon international organisations to come up with their projects to tackle the climate change impacts, and protect the CHT’s biodiversity and improve the livelihood of people’
As Chair of the Inaugural Session, Mr Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and Chair of the ICIMOD Board of Governors informed the audience that: “The seminar has been jointly organised with the vision of promoting sustainable development in CHT, and it is at a crucial juncture, as the Government of Bangladesh embarks on the process of implementing the sustainable development goals. We are grateful to ICIMOD for the support to CHT as experts in mountain issues.”
Speaking as the chief guest, Professor Dr Gowher Rizvi, International Affairs Adviser to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh stated that the government is committed to fully implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty signed in 1997. He further stated that the peaceful environment in the CHT during two military regimes during the country’s pre- and post-independence periods deteriorated due to the setting up of a hydropower plant and settlement of Bengalis there. He said the government has already amended the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 to effectively resolve longstanding land disputes in the CHT.
During the meeting the publication ‘Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Chittagong Hill Tracts – Challenges and Opportunities authored by Dr Golam Rasul ICIMOD and Mr Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs was launched. The publication will serve as a benchmark to support the design of successful policies and strategies for achieving the SDG’s in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In her message the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stats it is her hope this publication will be useful in Bangladesh’s journal to peace, progress and prosperity in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Link to the publication in Himaldoc
On behalf of BUET-Japan Institute of Disaster Prevention and Urban Safety Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Saiful Islam accepted the 2015 ICIMOD ICT4MD award for the early landslide warning system for the communities in the Chittagong Metropolitan Area. Using the latest geospatial techniques and tools, the team developed a dynamic GIS and web-based early warning system with local knowledge of past landslide locations and layers of biophysical parameters.
In his key note presentation Dr Golam Rasul, Theme Leader, ICIMOD said that the ethnic people of the CHT are not only alienated socially and politically, but also marginalised economically.
No one would be left behind in the CHT if the country wants to achieve the SDGs, he said adding that removing the open defecation and water problems in the hill region will be a very challenging task. Dr Golam pointed out that the livelihood of the hill people could be improved by utilising its untapped potentials as it has a unique diversity, culture and beautiful landscape and attracting tourists.
The second event was the Bangladesh Consultation: Emerging Opportunities and Priorities for Sustainable Mountain Development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts which was held jointly with the MoCHTA as ICIMOD’s nodal agency in Bangladesh. In the process of developing a new five year plan: MTAP IV, ICIMOD has been conducting country consultations to seek input and guidance from regional governments and a diverse network of partners in regional member countries in order to integrate key national priorities and regional concerns.
The Bangladesh-ICIMOD collaboration covers a broad range of activities from knowledge sharing to income generation, livelihood improvement, watershed management, disaster risk reduction, adaptation to climate change, capacity building, and skills development in many sectors including space applications and hydro-meteorological monitoring.
The consultation highlighted Bangladesh’s policy and programme priorities so that ICIMOD can align with them in the regional and national programmes being developed for the next five years (2018–2022).
Inaugurating the consultation, Mr Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs noted Bangladesh is no exception to the impact of climate change: Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to disasters because of its geographic location, flat and low-lying landscape, population density, and poverty. Bangladesh will need ICIMOD’s expertise, knowledge and cooperation to overcome the challenges ahead.
Dr David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD in his opening speech convened that as a regional inter-governmental body, ICIMOD has the convening strength to bring all the HKH countries together to tackle the common mountain challenges.
ICIMOD’s engagement with its member countries is both strategic and programmatic. At the strategic level, ICIMOD engages with key organisations on policy issues. At the programmatic level, it brings regional knowledge and expertise to find solutions to problems in collaboration with national partners.
There is opportunity for south-south learning on common issues. Here, ICIMOD is spearheading a Himalayan University Consortium binging over 50 universities together.
ICIMOD helps bring good science and local knowledge together to design context-specific local solutions.
Ms Mashfee Binte Shams, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Nepal in her presentation highlighted the pressing need for Sub-regional collaboration within SAARC to promote social economic collaboration, and share natural, social and cultural similarities. She further stressed the need to discuss and solve water issues including use of water transportations systems, hydropower development, harnessing of energy and tapping into the possibilities of power trade.
As sub-regional collaboration needs to be strengthening she emphasized ICIMOD’s role as science engagement, as developer of common understandings, as data collaboration, and environmental assessments reports development.
Speaking at the concluding session, Mr Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs mentioned: The consultation meeting was a great opportunity to strengthen partnerships between organisations in Bangladesh and ICIMOD, discuss and deliberate on the priorities as well emerging contexts of Bangladesh; and to jointly determine areas for collaborative action of mutual significance to CHT and ICIMOD.
Preserving, protection and promotion of the local cultures partnerships with ICIMOD and sharing of knowledge will be an important part of this development
Mr Basanta Shestha summed up the afternoon’s discussion and highlighted that the partnership day has brought many insights in terms of contextualizing the SDGs. While the world has made tremendous progress for achieving sustainable development in 2015 with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda or the Paris Climate Agreement, it is now the time to find context-specific and workable solutions to achieve the SDG targets. In this respect ICIMOD will make sure that its next five-year plan is in line with Bangladesh’s development priorities in order to support Bangladesh in the combat against climate change and to increase the well-being of the people in the CHT. ICIMOD will also strengthen its partnerships with private sector actors, especially social enterprises, as innovations, employment opportunities and income growth will rely heavily on the successful involvement of small and medium sized companies in rural areas.
Along with seven other member states Bangladesh is a founding member of ICIMOD. Bangladesh contributes core support to ICIMOD and Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) is appointed the designated focal agency. Secretary of MoCHTA represents the Government of Bangladesh in the ICIMOD Board of Governors.
Coinciding with this event, ICIMOD’s 47th Board of Governors Meeting is being held in Bangladesh starting 5-10 December. The event is hosted by Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs.