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Sharing Environmental Practices: From Bangladesh to the Gulf Coast

Tucked away on a quiet campus that extends along the Mississippi coast, Taibur Rahman lectures to a group of researchers, practitioners and students from The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab. Rahman, a Bangladeshi spending four months in the United States working with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium as a 2011 Community Solutions Program (CSP) leader, is presenting on economic development in Bangladesh and the country’s increasing vulnerability to climate change.

Sixty miles west, another Bangladeshi CSP participant, Mehdi Hasan, continues his work with the Sierra Club and the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. These organizations are supporting the rehabilitation and recovery of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, aiming to increase the community’s environmental sustainability and resiliency to flooding and natural disasters.

“Working with Taibur has been enlightening,” said Tracie Sempier, Coastal Storms Program Coordinator at the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Rahman’s host supervisor. “We can share best practices in regards to adaptation strategies and have a deeper understanding of the challenges each other face as we try to help our local communities prepare for future conditions.”

MehdiBoth Coastal Bangladesh and the Mississippi and Louisiana coast are vulnerable to the severe weather that results from climate change and are suffering from a deterioration of their coastal wetlands, Mother Nature’s own barrier to rising sea levels and floods. Although Coastal Bangladesh – with its high concentration of people, developing economy, and weak infrastructure – is much more susceptible to a natural catastrophe (e.g. research has shown that one meter sea level rise would impact nearly 14 million people in Bangladesh), Hurricane Katrina debunked the myth that the U.S.’s Gulf Coast is immune to such devastating impacts.

Rahman, an Assistant Senior Chief of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Planning, approaches his work as a CSP leader with nearly ten years working on coastal restoration projects and emergency response initiatives. In addition to the occasional presentation he puts on for the surrounding Ocean Spring, MS, community, Rahman is working closely with the Consortium on developing a Community Resiliency Index, a resource that quantitatively measures the readiness and preparedness of communities to handle natural disasters and climate change impacts. His experience working on similar issues back home has provided him with a toolkit of ideas and skills that allows him to contribute to his host organization in Mississippi. Moreover, Rahman’s experience has made for a reciprocal learning process to the benefit of both Bangladeshis and Mississippians.

Hasan, who works with the Center for Natural Resource Studies in Bangladesh to better prepare coastal Bangladeshis with climate change adaptation strategies, also brings a perspective to the work he does in New Orleans that is both relevant and timely, considering the ever growing necessity to revitalize the still depressed Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Hasan is currently researching methods for desalinization in order to promote the regrowth of cedars in a New Orleans canal that borders the Lower 9th Ward, a topic that rings strikingly similar to Coastal Bangladesh’s battle to sustain the indigenous mangroves that once strengthened the country’s wetlands and its subsequent resiliency to rising sea levels (quick fact: cedars and mangroves play a very similar role in coastal and wetland protection.).

“I found it interesting that we are also suffering the same problem with respect to climate change, with lots of damage in the wetlands. I’m getting more experience because of the similarities between here and my home country,” said Hasan.

Like Rahman, Hasan has practical knowledge and experience that is translating smoothly to his work along the Gulf Coast and that is helping foster community solutions across borders.

The Community Solutions Program is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and is implemented by IREX.