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Researching the livelihoods of millions in Bangladesh

By Leanne Coleman

Dr Abdulla spent 13 months living within the Sundarbans surveying the survival strategies of people surrounding the forests Dr Abdulla spent 13 months living within the Sundarbans surveying the survival strategies of people surrounding the forests

Research by PhD candidate Abu Nasar Mohammad Abdullah, who investigated the livelihoods of people living beside the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh, has found some clues to managing a sustainable link between people and environment.

The only natural habitat of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sundarbans Reserve Forest lies in the delta of the Ganges, Barhmaputra and Meghna rivers of the Bay of Bengal. It is the largest continuous mangrove forest in the world and provides income for millions of people and contributes billions of dollars annually to the economy.

Dr Abdulla spent 13 months living within the Sundarbans surveying the survival strategies of people surrounding these forests, and a further five years looking into how this linkage could be sustained.

“There are conflicts between those using the resources and those trying to conserve them,” Dr Abdulla said. “It is critical that we understand how the resources are linked to the livelihoods of the people in order to create the best practice policy for resource management.

“We cannot implement policies without first understanding how the resource is linked to the livelihoods of the people.”

Dr Abdulla’s research was the first study into the livelihoods derived from the forests and the consequences for its management.

“We looked at how household assets, livelihood strategies and outcomes varied and the roles mangrove resources and shrimp farming played in those livelihoods,” he said.

“The research found that lower income households depend heavily on mangrove resources, which helped alleviate poverty and reduce income inequality.

“In contrast, illegal commercial shrimp aquaculture has widened inequality, leading to loss of agriculture, livestock and access to land. While shrimp aquaculture was important to higher income households, particularly land-owning households, it has led to loss of agriculture, livestock and access to land of lower income households.”

He also examined the vulnerabilities of these livelihoods, particularly to cyclones that periodically affect the region.

“Constraints on access, resource variability and attacks by pirates and wildlife were the principal vulnerabilities of the lower income mangrove dependent households,” he said.

“However, higher income shrimp-farming households were more vulnerable than the poorer mangrove resource collectors to a cyclone, such as the Cyclone Aila that devastated the region in May 2009.”

The study recommended that policy approaches be adopted that ensured equitable growth by creating a balanced asset base within a livelihood framework with multiple interventions working simultaneously. “This would be a favourable outcome for the households surrounding the Sundarbans, to the managers of coastal communities in relation to poverty alleviation and promotion of environmentally sustainable livelihoods,” he said.

Dr Abdulla’s PhD was entitled: “Livelihood Strategies of People Surrounding the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest”. He received his PhD at a CDU end-of-year graduation ceremony last month.