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PCMMA of Potable Water and Agricultural Labor Market Systems

Korail neighborhood of Dhaka and rural Sirajganj Area
December, 2015

Floods recur on a regular basis in Bangladesh, with more than 80% of the country considered a floodplain. In Korail, seasonal waterlogging is the emergency scenario chosen for this assessment, because during such times, the risk of disease from water is high. The population density of Korail, the ubiquitous presence of solid and human waste, and its proximity to the highly contaminated Lake Gulshan are all factors that contribute to the risk and impact of disasters and seasonal hazards. Meanwhile, in the rural area of Sirajganj, the river Jamuna overflows its banks and floods most of the low-lying land almost every year, and rain patterns are becoming more erratic. Flash floods and moderate, periodic floods are common from June to September, and severe floods occur every few years. Flooding during the lean season affects women’s home-based livelihoods, such as poultry farming and homestead gardening. Additionally, ultra-poor families have to sell their livestock as they lack access to fodder and safe water for animals. Floods also lead to damage to houses and standing crops and loss of other assets that undermine economic security in the short and medium term. That said, the lack of labor opportunities during the lean season is the “major disaster” faced year after year by the agricultural landless laborers and has a greater impact on household economic security than do the floods themselves.

The analysis team followed the PCMMA guidance to apply an approach similar to that of the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) Toolkit in a pre-crisis context. For the purpose of this PCMMA assessment, the floods of 2014 and the annual rainy season were selected as the reference crises in Sirajganj and Korail, respectively. The team examined how the floods in the context of the lean season and rainy season impact the function of one critical market system in each area (potable water in Korail and agricultural labor in Sirajganj), in order to draw conclusions about the likely impact of future floods and seasonal rains on selected market systems, and to propose appropriate market-based preparedness and response interventions.

Throughout the year, the water market system in Korail provides a sufficient volume of water for the target population, although there are ongoing concerns and issues with environmental contamination of water and improper consumer practices, especially with the direct (untreated) consumption of water from unsafe sources. During emergencies, there is nearly universal local contamination of WASA (the government Water Supply and Sewerage Authority) water points, which are the main sources of drinking water. However, alternative sources of water, including the local market and water points in nearby neighborhoods can quickly scale up the supply of water during crises. The main constraint to the reliable supply of clean water is contamination via shoddy infrastructure. The low, steady price of water year-round, and the number of business, government, and non-government actors involved in water supply to Korail suggest a competitive and resilient market environment.

Sirajganj is a rural area where agriculture is the main economic activity. There is little mechanization, so commercial farms of all sizes depend heavily on cheap agricultural labor, which is abundantly available. The large majority of families relying on agricultural labor for their livelihood have no other livelihood strategies, and as such are in dire economic circumstances during the lean season from June to September, which is also when floods typically occur. A small minority of households have alternative livelihoods during the lean season, such as rickshaw pulling, or fishing, which also provides a regular income throughout the year. Other households send one or more members to Dhaka to work as day laborers during the lean season. However, for the majority of households, there are no income opportunities during the lean/flood season, and in order to meet their basic needs most are forced into a financially disastrous cycle of borrowing money. Laborers are not wage-setters, and there is an oversupply of labor in the market. Farmers determine their labor needs (and their ability to hire labor) based on crop acreage and effects of flooding.

Presupposing the necessary relationships in Korail, this report recommends the following market-sensitive programming options to meet the drinking water needs of the affected population during the rainy season, and particularly during waterlogging or flooding: unconditional cash, distributed in envelopes or by mobile money transfer for relief and recovery, along with the installation of mobile water treatment plants, similar to those already deployed by the International Federation of the Red Cross in Bangladesh, and the distribution of locally procured water. A key strategy to support landless laborers to cover the gap between their needs and means should focus on enhancing their ability to diversify their sources of food and income. Livelihoods strengthening should look at the already existing secondary livelihoods strategies that HHs use to complement income from agri-labor. During the emergency and early recovery phases, unconditional cash should be used to cover basic needs, conditional cash used for small-scale farmers to hire agri-laborers, and cash for work for DRR-related projects at the community level. Vouchers for flood resistant paddy varieties should be further explored as an intervention option. Finally, the team considered it appropriate to include the option for the creation or support of existing agricultural associations and cooperatives.

Report authors: 
Benjamin Barrows, Inés Dalmau i Gutsens
Download Report (9.92 MB pdf)