Bangladesh to slash its own climate adaptation fund

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:30 GMT

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Bangladesh plans to cut spending from its own budget on climate change adaptation and rely more in the future on funds from donors, government officials said.

The low-lying South Asian nation, considered one of the countries most at risk from climate impacts such as sea level rise, worsening erosion and erratic rainfall, has been a leader in the developing world in committing its own funds to climate adaptation. Officials allocated $320 million from the country’s budget over five years to a domestic climate adaptation fund, said Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith in a budget speech to parliament.

But “this allocation will be reduced in the future and instead steps will be taken to increase (funding to) the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund, established with the assistance of our development partners,” Muhith said in a June 5 speech. That fund has so far received $187 million from international donors, with some of the money going to adaptation projects.

The minister proposed no new funding for the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), the country’s own adaptation funding initiative, in the next budget.

The change comes as part of an update to the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009.

MISUSE OF FUNDS

Critics of the decision said the change in strategy comes in part because of questions raised about the alleged misuse of funds from the country’s adaptation trust fund, and the government’s desire to avoid further controversy in the future.

Last October, the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International said it had found evidence of political influence, nepotism and corruption in the way funds were allocated.

“A significant amount of money had been allocated for the BCCTF in the last five years but the spending was poor. Besides, the way the fund was managed has raised questions for many, which led no fresh allocation in the new budget,” Shamsul Alam, a member of the Bangladesh’s Planning Commission, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over telephone.

He said one advantage of relying on donor-funded climate adaptation projects it that they help transfer expertise and modern technology on adaptation, something Bangladesh in some cases lacks. “Capacity building of people on the ground is a must to adapt to climate change impacts,” he said.

Asked if donors might feel less willing to channel money to Bangladesh as a result of the government cutback in its own spending, he noted that in the new budget the government has imposed a “green tax” on industries that do not have a waste treatment plant.

That change “proves Bangladesh’s sincerity to climate change adaptation and keeping the environment free of pollution,” he said.

Atiq Rahman, executive director of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview that Bangladesh still has a lot to do to adapt to climate change, particularly as it is so vulnerable.

He said the southern part of the country is particularly vulnerable, with 20 million people already lacking sufficient food, safe drinking water and sanitation systems. Drought-prone northern districts will also need large-scale climate adaptation programmes, he said.

DISCOURAGING DONORS?

Rahman said he thinks the government’s decision to cut its own spending on climate adaptation is the wrong one.

“The BCCTF should be kept well funded and replenished to encourage donors to pay more in the resilience fund. Unless you pay a portion on your own, why will donors feel interested to pay for your adaptation programmes?” he asked.

But greater transparency needs to be put in place in the spending of climate funds, to ensure the money goes to support people in the most need of help.

Hasan Mahmud, a member of parliament and Bangladesh’s former environment minister said adaptation projects costing less than $25 million will suffer the most if Bangladesh’s adaptation trust fund has no resources.

Donors for the most part only sponsor climate resilience projects larger than $25 million, he said in a telephone interview, but many of the projects Bangladesh needs most cost in the range of $5 million to $10 million.

“Big projects are not needed everywhere,” he said.

The government’s decision to create its own adaptation trust fund was highly praised by donor agencies and countries and a major encouragement for them to channel money to Bangladesh, he said.

“Donors felt (the depth of) Bangladesh’s seriousness about adaptation, despite not being responsible for climate change, following formation of the fund. Now the donors may get a wrong message and raise questions about whether we need any more adaptation funds since we have stopped spending from our own,” Mahmud warned.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: [email protected]

http://www.trust.org/item/20140618092711-072sy/?source=hpeditorial&siteVersion=mobile#

Disaster dice loaded against poorest countries

TOKYO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It is often said that people in the poorest countries suffer most from climate hazards and the effects of a warming world. Now we have the data to prove it.

Between January 1980 and July 2013, climate-related disasters caused 2.52 million deaths around the globe. Of the total, a disproportionately high number of deaths – 1.28 million or 51 percent – were recorded in the world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs), according to a recent briefing paper from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). – http://www.trust.org/item/20131206094547-fy6ma/?source=hptop

Watchdog finds malpractice in Bangladesh climate finance

Tue, 15 Oct 2013

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An international watchdog has uncovered malpractice in the management of Bangladesh’s climate change funding, finding that some groups paid 20 percent of their allocation as “commission” in order to be chosen for adaptation projects.

On Oct. 3, the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) released a study on climate fund governance that revealed political influence, nepotism and corruption in the selection of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to carry out work on the ground.

It described how the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a state-owned ‘not-for-profit’ company that funds micro-credit programmes, had picked 63 NGOs to receive grants from the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), set up to channel money budgeted by the government to help communities adapt to climate shifts.

From 2011 onwards, TIB investigated the selection process, funding and project progress for 55 NGOs out of the 63. Researchers were unable to trace 10 of the NGOs. They also discovered that the heads of 13 NGOs were involved in politics, and that nine projects were awarded as a result of political influence.

“It is alleged (to us) that some NGOs received projects through political influence, by paying commissions (20 percent of total project value), by engaging associate NGOs with connections with policy makers for implementing the project in partnership with the approved NGO, and by colluding with decision-makers and providing undue benefits, such as establishing a computer centre in the electoral constituency of the concerned official,” TIB researchers said.

Only 17 of the NGOs had prior experience of working directly on natural disasters, environment and climate change, according to the report. Presenting the research, assistant coordinator Mohua Rauf said most of the NGOs chosen were inexperienced, lacked the necessary infrastructure and had questionable credibility.

Funding allocations do not appear to be based on need, she added. Among the districts worst-affected by climate change, Khulna got only 6.5 percent of the total, while Satkhira received only 1.2 percent and Bagerhat nothing. But districts that are much less affected – Tangail, Gaibandha, Rajshahi and Nowabganj – were awarded a large number of projects.

Rauf said the PKSF, which manages the trust fund, did not monitor, inspect or review the progress of project implementation. This could be due to a lack of funding to carry out the work, as the body has not received any money from the BCCTF for that purpose, she added.

‘SOME DIFFICULTIES’

The PKSF hit back at the TIB investigation after it was reported in different media outlets.

“Initially, (the) government selected 131 NGOs from over 4,000 applications. Later on PKSF was entrusted with the NGO verification and finance. Finally, 63 NGOs were selected. During the procedure, PKSF investigated (the) existence of the NGOs, their capacity, previous activities/experience etc. Only those NGOs which fulfilled the above criteria were selected for funding,” it said in a statement.

TIB’s finding that 10 NGOs did not exist was incorrect, the PKSF added.

“According to the existing terms and conditions, selected NGOs are at liberty to engage partners for project implementation. Since climate change adaptation is a new concept, we found some NGOs are facing some difficulties in implementing the project,” it said.

The PKSF’s fund allocation and selection criteria “are very rigid and transparent”, it continued. “Strict rules are followed in the entire process. There is no scope for any unfair means or corrupt practice in PKSF activities,” it said.

TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman told Thomson Reuters Foundation projects should be selected based on local need.

“Political influence, nepotism and other malpractices should not get consideration in project selection,” he said. “Projects should be undertaken in the areas where people are more affected and vulnerable to climate change impacts.”

In addition, project transparency and accountability has to be ensured during implementation, he said. If that doesn’t happen, international funds may stop flowing, he warned.

Up to June this year, developed nations made climate finance pledges of $594 million to Bangladesh, although much of the money has yet to be delivered. In addition, the South Asian nation has received $147 million out of $149 million promised by a group of wealthy states through the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), a multi-donor fund administered by the World Bank.

“We get money from (the) national and international level for adaptation. If we can utilise it effectively, more funds will be channelled in the near future. If the malpractices are not eliminated, donors won’t show interest,” Iftekharuzzaman said.

‘IT’S A VERY EASY JOB’

Ruhul Matin, executive director of Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (Sagarika Social Development Organisation), said he had submitted a project proposal for Tk 30 million ($386,400) to help 5,000 fishermen in the southeastern districts of Noakhali, Laxmipur and Feni.

“I was given Tk 3 million, and we are now supporting 500 fishermen,” he said. “We helped them elevate houses, provided some trees for forestation and lifejackets, and gave (them) some training for income-generation activities.”

His organisation is an implementation partner for PKSF-funded projects, whose progress is being closely monitored by PKSF officials, he added.

Selim Chowdhury, project coordinator for Samahar, an NGO that was allocated Tk 3 million to plant trees in the capital, said his organisation had previously carried out garbage management work in the city with the Dhaka City Corporation.

The TIB research team said this NGO had been selected for climate change funding because of political influence. Chowdhury denied this.

“It’s a very easy job – anyone, experienced or inexperienced, can do the work. We will plant trees on two sides of the roads in some areas of Dhaka,” he said.

NEED TO SHOW RIGOUR

Ainun Nishat, an environmentalist and vice chancellor of BRAC University in Dhaka, told Thomson Reuters Foundation the BCCTF is governed by a high-powered committee comprising several ministers, government secretaries and experts.

“But you can get nothing online about the NGO projects under the BCCTF, which does not reflect transparency and accountability,” said Nishat.

The PKSF is also helping select NGOs for the disbursement of 10 percent of the money in the donor-backed climate change resilience fund. In this case, information about the NGOs, selection criteria, project details and implementation progress are available online, Nishat added.

“No matter whether the funds come from donors or the government exchequer, transparency in the selection of NGOs and projects must be ensured,” he said.

Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, an NGO that works on sustainable development issues, said Bangladesh has attracted international sympathy for its vulnerability to climate change, as well as it efforts to tackle the problem.

“In the near future, there will be greater allocation from the global sources of funding. Bangladesh needs to demonstrate its capacity to absorb funds through technically sound projects which have a high degree of transparency and accountability,” he said.

“It is in our interest to build that capacity and rigour as soon as we can,” he added.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: [email protected]

http://www.trust.org/item/20131015100349-6sbou/

Solar traffic signals help Pakistan tackle road jams

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 4 Sep 2013

A solar-powered traffic signal installed at the Aabpara intersection in Islamabad is helping manage traffic congestation. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Saleem Shaikh.

 

ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Business has picked up for Abdul Latif, and he credits to an eco-innovation in Pakistan’s capital: the solar-powered traffic signal.

Latif runs a shoe shop in Aabpara, a bustling main shopping area in an upscale sector of the heart of Islamabad.

The traffic signal at the Aabpara intersection used to regularly fall dark because of frequent and protracted power failures, causing massive traffic jams on the road that passes by his shop.

“The traffic jam had become a nuisance equally for shoppers and shop owners in the market. Customers would avoid coming to the market for fear that they would become entangled,” he said. “Business activities were suffering seriously.”

But the installation of solar-powered traffic signals has resolved the problem and business is now booming again, a happy Latif told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Traffic jams on Islamabad’s main arteries and at intersections have become routine in the power-starved capital, which sees regular power outages, particularly when energy demand is high. Outages can lead to traffic signals going dark for hours, leading to massive traffic snarls.

But in July, the city’s Capital Development Authority launched a pilot project to power traffic signals using solar panels. Solar-powered signals are now working at the Aabpara roundabout and at two other busy locations in the city.

Officials at the Authority’s engineering wing said that if the pilot project is effective, the solar-powered signals would be installed at more intersections or roundabouts where traffic jams are a serious problem when the signals go dark.

Navid Hassan Bokhari, director of solar energy affairs for the Pakistan Alternative Energy Development Board, said board had put together a plan to install solar panels at 25 traffic signals in Islamabad.

WELCOME CHANGES

Frustrated traders, fed-up drivers and exhausted traffic wardens welcomed the changes.

“When traffic signals shut down during load-shedding hours, it is the wardens who have to handle vehicular traffic congestation for hours, said Bilal Raza, a 45-year-old traffic warden, standing beneath the solar-powered traffic signal at the Aabpara roundabout.

The solar-powered signals are “helping us manage traffic jams that are a nightmare for us,” he said.

Jacob Joseph, who runs a smartphone shop at the Jinnah Super market in another upscale residential and commercial sector, said he believed solar traffic signals could help manage business-destroying congestion at a range of shopping areas across the city.

Hit by worsening power crises, the country’s other provinces, such as Sindh and Punjab, also are mulling installing solar traffic signals and street lights.

Saeed Akhtar, chief engineer for Punjab province’s Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency told Thomson Reuters Foundation over the telephone from Lahore that contracts have been signed with three local firms for the conversion of traffic signals to solar power at five road intersections in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province.

The costs of installing solar panels will be paid for by private firms in return for small advertisements at the signals, noting which firm had backed the project, he said.

Akthar said his department is in touch with different potential corporate sponsors to fund installation and maintenance of solar panels at all 138 traffic signals.

If the plan works, it “will help address our aggravating traffic mess without becoming any financial burden on the government’s pocket,” he maintained.

Pakistan is grappled with one of the worst energy crises in its history, with around a 4,000-megawatt shortfall. Authorities hope that can be plugged by tapping into Pakistan’s huge solar energy potential.

Right now, Pakistan uses only 7 megawatts of solar power, out of its estimated potential of 2.9 million megawatts, Gholamreza Zahedi, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email interview.

He said that attracting local investments in small- and medium-size renewable energy plans and launching local manufacturing of basic components, with the help of European countries and China, which have more advanced renewable technology, could make a big difference in expanding Pakistan’s solar energy production.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Weblink: http://www.trust.org/item/20130903161523-avku9/

Government budget cuts threaten Pakistan’s climate change efforts

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 11 Jul 2013 01:35 PM

The Leh Nullah river, which flows from Islamabad to Rawalpindi, is dangerously clogged with debris and garbage as the rainy season starts. Photo/Muhammad Javaid

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A sharp cut in government funds for Pakistan’s main climate change agency may mean little to thousands of people in homes perched along a flood-prone river in the city of Rawalpindi. But it could tip them into crisis during the monsoon season that has just begun.

The natural river – known as Leh Nullah – doubles as a drain, and is now contaminated with rubbish and sewage. It has burst its banks several times in the past, severely damaging houses. The last time this happened was in July 2001, when flooding cost 35 lives and swept away several slum areas.

The Leh Nullah winds 30 km east from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, down to low-lying Rawalpindi. It has six major tributaries, three originating in the foothills of Islamabad’s scenic Margallah Hills.

Amid economic woes and a fiscal squeeze, Ishaq Dar, the finance minister of Pakistan’s new government, announced in last month’s budget speech a massive cut of over 62 percent in annual spending for Pakistan’s government department charged with tackling climate change.

A few days earlier the country’s climate change ministry – which had only existed since April 2012 – was downgraded to a division. The Climate Change Division is part of the Federal Cabinet Secretariat which functions under the oversight of the prime minister.

The moves have drawn strong criticism from climate scientists, as well as local and international organisations working to boost the country’s resilience to climate impacts.
They warn that the spending cuts may be felt on the ground as early as this year’s monsoon season, which runs from July to September.

In Rawalpindi, the Leh Nullah brims over during monsoon, posing a risk to thousands of families in the settlements it snakes through. Weeks before, government authorities usually remove debris and garbage dumped in the channel so floodwater can flow through unimpeded.

But no such activity has happened this year, according to Joseph Jacob, a local fruit vendor who lives with his family on the drain’s right bank. “We are in a state of fear, and will be compelled to fend for ourselves during the forthcoming monsoon season,” he said.

Thousands of natural flood drains in urban areas are vulnerable to surging waters during the monsoon. But local newspapers report that most have not been cleared as the government has not provided the necessary financial support.

“We have written so many letters to the government for the release of funds and apprised them of the looming threats if the Leh Nullah is not cleared of debris before monsoon season. But such pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears, because there has been no response as yet,” said Saqib Zaffar, Rawalpindi’s district coordination officer.

‘CAR WITHOUT FUEL’

The finance minister has earmarked just 59 million Pakistani rupees (around $590,000) for the Climate Change Division for the 2013-14 financial year that began on July 1, compared with Rs135 million in 2012-13.

Nearly two thirds of this year’s spending is for four ongoing projects. Only two new initiatives – the development of an information system to manage water and sanitation and the establishment of a high-tech climate monitoring centre – were granted funds, according to budget documents.

Pakistan’s total outlay for the new financial year is Rs3.6 trillion, while it faces a fiscal deficit of Rs1.6 trillion.

As a part of government austerity measures, the finance minister announced a 30 percent cut in non-salary expenditures for all federal ministries and divisions.

The government also slashed the number of federal ministries from 40 to 28 last month, including converting the climate change ministry into a division.

Dar told parliament these “unavoidable” budgetary measures would save about 40 billion rupees.

“It is like you are given a car but there is no fuel to drive it,” said a senior official at the Climate Change Division who did not want to be named. “This will scuttle our mitigation and adaptation initiatives launched last year,” he added with disappointment.

The official told Thomson Reuters Foundation the division had requested a budget of around Rs100 million. The Planning Commission of Pakistan, which approves development programmes weeks before the new budget is unveiled, had principally agreed to it before the budget announcement on June 12, he added.

“But to our sheer surprise, no such (amount) was granted,” he said, adding that the commission had also dropped four new climate schemes relating to water, agriculture and renewable energy.

Jawaid Ali, a former director-general at the climate change agency, slammed the “abysmally low” budget allocation, saying it reflects how climate change mitigation and adaptation remain at the bottom of the new government’s priority list.

Even the division’s day-to-day functioning will be severely hampered, he said, not to mention its joint ventures with U.N. agencies.

INTERNATIONAL CASE UNDERMINED

Officials at the Climate Change Division who look after partnerships with international organisations fear the cut in spending could affect Pakistan’s efforts to highlight its climate change vulnerability at the global level.

Tauqeer Ali Sheikh, Asia director for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and head of LEAD Pakistan, an environment and development organisation, said Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change, but the meagre budget allocation reflects the government’s poor understanding of this.

“Because of official apathy, Pakistan is also losing its representation at international forums for highlighting its vulnerability to harsh weather patterns,” he said.

Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, a lead author of the National Climate Change Policy, said Pakistan may face international isolation if it does not take far-reaching measures to cope with climate stresses.

Azeem Khoso, deputy director for regional planning, echoed his concern. “If the country does not participate in international activities for want of funds, the global community will think Pakistan is not serious in coping with the vagaries of climate change and improving national resilience,” he cautioned.

Pervaiz Amir, a member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that officials from India and Bangladesh effectively fought their case for receiving international funding at climate talks in Bonn this year. But there was no representative from Pakistan to argue the same – which he described as “unfortunate”.

Still experts say Pakistan can still improve its resilience to climate impacts even with a lower level of government spending.

Sheikh said Pakistan should continue to draft workable mitigation and adaptation plans across a range of social and economic sectors.

“Such plans can help win foreign funding for the country and substantiate its urgency and seriousness in tackling climate change – particularly in the water, agriculture, health and energy sectors,” he said.

“But all government ministries, divisions and departments have to work collaboratively with the Climate Change Division to achieve this,” he emphasised.

Saleem Shaikh is climate change and development reporter based in Islamabad.

Weblink: http://www.trust.org/item/20130711133533-z7p9x/