Transformative Adaptations to Climate Change: Cases from the Jamuna River Fishing Communities of Bangladesh

Main Article Content

Md. Monirul Islam
Farah Islam
Mosammat Salma Akter
Goutam Kumar Kundu
Aparna Barman
Makidul Islam Khan


Study on transformative adaptation to climate change is scarce despite its tremendous importance. This study assesses the transformative adaptation of fishery-based livelihoods of the Jamuna River in Bangladesh (a trans-boundary river called the Brahmaputra in India). Using interviews, focus group discussions and matrices data from two Jamuna River dependent fishing communities (Kalitola Ghat and Debdanga), this study found 80–91 % fishers in both communities have been exposed to floods, storms and riverbank erosion  affecting their livelihood capitals, activities, strategies and outcomes. This study identifies five transformative adaptations: migration, building concrete house, livelihood diversification, changes in fishing gear and techniques and tree plantation. In Kalitola Ghat, 57.3 % and in Debdanga, 78 % of fishers have migrated to safer places to minimise the adverse impacts of climatic hazards. To withstand the impacts of storms and floods, in Kalitola Ghat, 5 % and in Debdanga, 6 % of fishers have built concrete houses. More fishers of Kalitola Ghat (56 %) have diversified their livelihoods than Debdanga counterparts (5 %). Around 78 % and 100 % of fishers in Kalitola Ghat and Debdanga have changed their traditional fishing gear and techniques to overcome the impacts of climatic hazards. Traditionally, the fishing communities have coped with or adapted to the impacts of climate change which are not sufficient to maintain their sustainable livelihoods. The findings of this study allow identification of the measures that could help address the impacts of current and future climate change for the fishing communities.

Article Details

How to Cite
Islam, M. M., Islam, F., Akter, M. S., Kundu, G. K., Barman, A. ., & Khan, M. I. (2020). Transformative Adaptations to Climate Change: Cases from the Jamuna River Fishing Communities of Bangladesh. Journal of Fisheries and Environment, 44(3), 1–18. Retrieved from


Adato, M. and R. Meinzen-Dick. 2003. Assessing the impact of agricultural research on poverty and livelihoods. Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture 42(2): 149-166.

Agrawal, A. 2010. Local institutions and adaptation to climate change. In: Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World (eds. R. Mearns and A. Norton), pp. 173-178. World Bank, Washington DC, USA.

Ahmed, M. and S. Suphachalasai. 2014. Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia. Asian Development Bank. Mandaluyong City, Manila, Philippines. 143 pp.

Aiken, K.A., P.R. Bacon and R.R. Mooyoung. 1992. Recovery after hurricane Gilbert: implications for disaster preparedness in the fishing industry in Jamaica. Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 42: 261.

Allison, E.H., A.L. Perry, M.C. Badjeck, W.N. Adger, K. Brown, D. Conway, A.S. Halls, G.M. Pilling, J.D. Reynolds, N.L. Andrew and N.K. Dulvy. 2009. Vulnerability of national economies to the impacts of climate change on fisheries. Fish and Fisheries 10(2): 173-196.

Anik, S.I. and M.A.S.A. Khan. 2012. Climate change adaptation through local knowledge in the north eastern region of Bangladesh. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 17(8): 879-896.

Ashley, C. and D. Carney. 1999. Sustainable Livelihoods: Lessons from Early Experience. Department for International Development. Russell Press Ltd. Nottingham, London. 55 pp.

Badjeck, M.C., E.H. Allison, A.S. Halls and N.K. Dulvy. 2010. Impacts of climate variability and change on fishery-based livelihoods. Marine Policy 34(3): 375-383.

Barnett, J. and S.J. O'neill. 2012. Islands, resettlement and adaptation. Nature Climate Change 2(1): 8-10. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1334.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. 2011. Bangladesh Population Census 2001. Ministry of Planning. Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Dhaka. 466 pp.

Black, R., W.N. Adger, N.W. Arnell, S. Dercon, A. Geddes and D. Thomas. 2011. The effect of environmental change on human migration. Global Environmental Change 21: 3-11.

Cheung, W.W., V.W. Lam, J.L. Sarmiento, K. Kearney, R. Watson and D. Pauly. 2009. Projecting global marine biodiversity impacts under climate change scenarios. Fish and Fisheries 10(3): 235-251.

Connolly-Boutin, L. and B. Smit. 2016. Climate change, food security, and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. Regional Environmental Change 16(2): 385-399.

Coulthard, S. 2009. Adaptation and conflict within fisheries: insights for living with climate change. In: Adapting to Climate Change: Thresholds, Values and Governance (eds. W.N. Adger, I. Lorenzoni and K.L. O'Brien), pp. 255-268. Cambridge University Press, UK.

Daw, T., W.N. Adger, K. Brown and M.C. Badjeck. 2009. Climate change and capture fisheries: potential impacts, adaptation and mitigation. In: Climate Change Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture: overview of current scientific knowledge (eds. K. Cochrane, C. De Young, D. Soto and T. Bahri), pp. 107-150. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. no. 530. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Dazé, A., K. Ambrose and C. Ehrhart. 2009. Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis Handbook. CARE International, London. 42 pp.

Department for International Development (DFID). 1999. Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets. Department for International Development. London, UK. 100145/Sustainable+livelihoods+guidance+sheets/8f35b59f-8207-43fc-8b99-df75d3000e86. Cited 17 Sep 2019.

Department of Fisheries. 2018. National Fish Week, 2018. Compendium. Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 160 pp.

Eckstein, D., M.L. Hutfils and M. Winges. 2018. Global Climate Risk Index 2019. Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Weather-related Loss Events in 2017 and 1998 to 2017. Briefing paper. Germanwatch, Bonn. 36 pp.

Fisheries Resources Survey System (FRSS). 2018. Yearbook of Fisheries Statistics of Bangladesh, 2017-18. Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 129 pp.

Fenton, A., J. Paavola and A. Tallontire. 2017. Autonomous adaptation to riverine flooding in Satkhira District, Bangladesh: implications for adaptation planning. Regional Environmental Change 17(8): 2387-2396.

Flowra, F.A., M.A. Islam, S.N. Jahan, M.A. Samad and M.M. Alam. 2011. Status and decline causes of fishing activities of the Baral River, Natore, Bangladesh. Journal of Science Foundation 9(1-2): 115-124.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2014. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014: Opportunities and Challenges. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. 223 pp.

Hadarits, M., J. Pittman, D. Corkal, H. Hill, K. Bruce and A. Howard. 2017. The interplay between incremental, transitional, and transformational adaptation: a case study of Canadian agriculture. Regional Environmental Change 17(5): 1515-1525.

Hahn, M.B., A.M. Riederer and S.O. Foster. 2009. The livelihood vulnerability index: A pragmatic approach to assessing risks from climate variability and change - A case study in Mozambique. Global Environmental Change 19(1): 74-88.

Hunter, L.M. 2005. Migration and environmental hazards. Population and Environment 26(4): 273-302.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2014. Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and sectoral aspects. Contribution of working group II to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (eds. C.B. Field, V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea and L.L. White), pp. 1-32. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USA.

Islam, M.M., S. Sallu, K. Hubacek and J. Paavola, J. 2014a. Vulnerability of fishery-based livelihoods to the impacts of climate variability and change: insights from coastal Bangladesh. Regional Environmental Change 14(1): 281-294.

Islam, M.M., S. Sallu, K. Hubacek and J. Paavola. 2014b. Migrating to tackle climate variability and change? Insights from coastal fishing communities in Bangladesh. Climatic Change 124(4): 733-746.

Kates, R.W., W.R. Travis and T.J. Wilbanks. 2012. Transformational adaptation when incremental adaptations to climate change are insufficient. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 109(19): 7156-7161.

Khan, M.I., G.K. Kundu, M.S, Akter, B. Mallick and M.M. Islam. 2018a. Climatic impacts and responses of migratory and non-migratory fishers of the Padma River, Bangladesh. Social Sciences 7(12): 254. DOI: 10.3390/socsci7120254.

Khan, M.I., M.M. Islam, G.K. Kundu and M.S. Akter. 2018b. Understanding the livelihood characteristics of the migratory and non-migratory fishers of the Padma River, Bangladesh. Journal of Scientific Research 10(3): 261-273.

Khan, N.I. and A. Islam. 2003. Quantification of erosion patterns in the Brahmaputra–Jamuna River using geographical information system and remote sensing techniques. Hydrological Processes 17(5): 959-966.

Matyas, D. and M. Pelling. 2015. Positioning resilience in the post-2015 disaster risk management policy landscape: integrating resistance, persistence and transformation. Disasters 39(S1): 1-18.

Minar, M.H., M.B. Hossain and M.D. Shamsuddin. 2013. Climate change and coastal zone of Bangladesh: vulnerability, resilience and adaptability. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research 13(1): 114-120.

Mustelin, J. and J. Handmer. 2013. Triggering transformation: Managing resilience or invoking real change. Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate 2013: 24-32.

Nelson, D.R., W.N. Adger and K. Brown. 2007. Adaptation to environmental change: contributions of a resilience framework. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32: 395-419.

Paavola, J. 2008. Livelihoods, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Morogoro, Tanzania. Environmental Science and Policy 11(7): 642-654.

Rahman, M.R. 2010. Impact of riverbank erosion hazard in the Jamuna floodplain areas in Bangladesh. Journal of Science Foundation 8(1-2): 55-65.

Roggema, R., T. Vermeend and A.V.D. Dobbelsteen. 2012. Incremental change, transition or transformation? Optimising change pathways for climate adaptation in spatial planning. Sustainability 4(10): 2525-2549.

Sadovy, Y. 2005. Trouble on the reef: the imperative for managing vulnerable and valuable fisheries. Fish and Fisheries 6(3): 167-185.

Scoones, I. 1998. Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: A Framework for Analysis. IDS Working Paper 72. Institute of Development Studies. Brighton. 22 pp.

Solesbury, W. 2003. Sustainable Livelihoods: A Case Study of the Evolution of DFID Policy. Working paper 217. Overseas Development Institute. London. 28 pp.

Westlund, L., F. Poulain, H. Bage and R. van Anrooy. 2007. Disaster Response and Risk Management in the Fisheries Sector. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 479. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Rome. 51 pp.

Woodroffe, C.D. 2003. Coasts: Form, Process and Evolution. Cambridge University Press. United Kingdom. 638 pp.

Yáñez, E., M.A. Barbieri, C. Silva, K. Nieto and F. Espíndola. 2001. Climate variability and pelagic fisheries in northern Chile. Progress in Oceanography 49(1): 581-596.

Ziervogel, G. and R. Calder. 2003. Climate variability and rural livelihoods: assessing the impact of seasonal climate forecasts in Lesotho. Area 35(4): 403-417.