Climate risk and resilience in Bangladesh

Kirsty Scott

13 October 2023

This is an article from the CSC Development Theme: Strengthening resilience and response to crises

I used to read textbooks and then try to talk about it with a few examples that I couldn’t relate to as much because I hadn’t experienced it. But working on these projects was really helpful because it allowed me to travel, talk to people, get more insight and understanding, and gain insight on what goes on in people’s lives, how they see, and what they need.


In June 2022, Bangladesh was hit by record-breaking flash floods in nine north-eastern regions, affecting more than 7 million people.  Bangladesh is recognised as one of the countries most affected by climate change due to its geographical location. Addressing climate vulnerability is an immediate priority to protect the lives and livelihoods of those most at risk from the effects of extreme weather events and climate-related disasters.

Commonwealth Alumnus Asikunnaby has long aspired to work in academia and contribute to ongoing research to address the climate-related risks facing Bangladesh.

Following his Commonwealth Scholarship to complete a Master’s in Risk at Durham University, he returned to his faculty position at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) in the Department for Disaster Management and Resilience. In this role, he teaches undergraduate students and supervises several postgraduate students, alongside providing expertise to external projects addressing disaster and resilience in Bangladesh.

To continue his professional development, Asikunnaby is currently on study leave to complete a fully-funded PhD in Geography at the San Diego State University and The University of California, Santa Barbara. His doctoral studies investigate the impact of heatwaves on human health and crop production, with a focus on farmers and those working in the agricultural sector in Bangladesh.

Learning from different approaches

Asikunnaby credits his Master’s at Durham University for introducing him to different areas of research within his field, guiding his decision to undertake a PhD in Geography. He is also applying the research methods he learned during this time to complete his current fieldwork and research, such as using remote sensing to collect data to understand how disasters impact livelihoods and communities.

Asikunnaby feels that his exposure to different styles of teaching at Durham University has positively influenced his own teaching and input into curriculum development at BUP.

“I redesigned some of the courses I took after returning from my Commonwealth Scholarship based on my learning at Durham University. For example, I added more discussion and critical thinking tasks than only assignments and final exams for graduate-level courses.”

Asikunnaby feels these changes have enabled his students to learn how to contribute to discussions and increased interest in the subject matter. He has also made himself more available to students outside of the classroom to encourage ongoing discussion and to seek advice. He notes this is a cultural change from typical forms of teaching in Bangladesh, but for some students, this has proven successful in supporting their studies and academic development.

Turning theory into practical knowledge

As well as resuming his faculty position, on his return home, Asikunnaby was fortunate to be invited to work as a consultant on several research projects related to his skills in disaster management, risk and resilience.

One such project was developing and conducting a baseline study to identify ways of reducing the physical vulnerability of flood-prone communities in northern Bangladesh. The region is vulnerable to monsoon floods and flash floods due to the Padma River and its proximity to Meghalaya, a hilly region across the border that receives one of the highest rainfalls in India.

The study included a range of data collection methods, including interviews and quantitative surveys, to develop the most appropriate intervention. Based on the findings, recommendations included elevating houses to reduce the physical risk to homes during flooding and to enable people to shelter during adverse weather conditions. For most people in this region, raising cattle is a significant part of their livelihoods and economy. Elevating fields to protect cattle was also a recommendation to reduce the devastating impact that the loss of cattle may have on livelihoods during and post-flooding.

Asikunnaby shares that understanding the impact of extreme weather events on men and women was an essential part of this project. He explains that men and women often experience the impact of flooding in different ways, such as access to hygiene and sanitation. His baseline study helped to gather important information on these differences, which have been factored into further interventions.

Reflecting on working on this and other projects, Asikunnaby shares that it enabled him to consolidate and apply his academic learning in the real world.

“I used to read textbooks and then try to talk about it with a few examples that I couldn’t relate to as much because I hadn’t experienced it. But working on these projects was really helpful because it allowed me to travel, talk to people, get more insight and understanding, and gain insight on what goes on in people’s lives, how they see, and what they need.”

This exposure has also strengthened his teaching practice as he can now use his own real-life examples and experience when teaching concepts. It also introduced him more widely to the disaster risk reduction sector and NGOs working in this field, opening opportunities to be consulted on other projects and increase his exposure to experts.

Data-informed decision-making

One of the biggest projects Asikunnaby has worked on post-Scholarship was the Index for Risk Management (INFORM). Introduced by the European Union (EU) in 2011, INFORM is a multi-stakeholder forum for developing shared, quantitative analysis relevant to humanitarian crises and disasters. To support this work, INFORM has developed a suite of quantitative, analytical products to support decision-making on humanitarian crises and disasters, including a formula to quantify risk using available statistics.

“How do you decide where to send more resources? What resources do you send, and who needs them more? To get an understanding like this, you need to quantify risk and hazard. So, risk considers hazard, vulnerability and coping capacity.”

The EU has applied this formula at the global level. However, only a few countries have applied it at the national level to understand their specific vulnerabilities. Asikunnaby notes that application at the national level is important as countries calculate their figures differently, such as the number of people in need and the level of resources required to respond to a disaster.

In collaboration with representatives at the UNDRR, Care Bangladesh and NIRAPAD, Asikunnaby was part of a team which developed a pilot project to measure the index for risk for three small areas in Bangladesh. On presenting their findings to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and other government and NGO representatives, they received significant interest and were awarded increased funding to scale up the project to the national level.

With the support of the UNDRR, Asikunnaby was able to develop his data management skills further, seeking advice and guidance from UN colleagues across the world to apply different methods and frameworks.

At the start of 2022, Asikunnaby and the team completed the first national INFORM for Bangladesh. He is pleased to share that the findings are already being used in decision-making to respond to disasters, and the data is publicly available on the EU’s INFORM website.

Asikunnaby stresses that public access to the data is an important part of strengthening disaster management as it can be used by others to write research and grant proposals and support ongoing research and interventions.

“It needs to be updated every few years, but it’s already being put to use. And I know last year they used it to make decisions, such as where to focus and where to send assistance. And not just for during and after disasters, it’s useful for all the non-governmental organisations, whoever works in the humanitarian sector.”

Asked if he could have imagined being involved in projects such as this prior to his Commonwealth Scholarship, Asikunnaby shares he would never have considered these opportunities.

“Definitely not. I never thought I would get into this kind of work to be honest. I didn’t know there were opportunities like this and people would reach out to me. Also, we did it as a pilot so we didn’t know if it would work out. It only worked because when we shared some of the pilot results, people showed more of an interest, that this could be useful for them.”

Reflections on studying abroad

Asikunnaby has achieved a lot in the short time since completing his Master’s at Durham University. His time at the university coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic which limited his opportunities to meet people and travel around the UK. However, he feels his time in the UK has been beneficial in learning more about himself, as well as supporting his academic goals.

“[Studying in the UK] was a massive life-changing experience for me. It’s hard to explain in words to be honest. I explored who I am as an individual. How I work, my comforts, discomforts, how I deal with myself as an individual.”

These skills continue to be important in pursuing his current doctoral studies. Whilst his research is focused on the impact of heatwaves on human health, he hopes in future to expand this to understand the impact of other extreme weather events, such as cyclones, drought and broader welfare matters, to advise on more robust climate change adaptation strategies and interventions.

Reflecting on his Commonwealth Scholarship and further studies, Asikunnaby highlights the wider impact on those around him.

“I am the first person in my family to attend a university, and the Commonwealth Scholarship allowed me to study at one of the finest universities in the world. It has inspired my family members, students, and colleagues to pursue higher studies to learn about the latest academic developments.


“Currently, I am pursuing my PhD and getting rigorous academic training. I hope to contribute further to the disaster management sector, including in Bangladesh and countries of the global south that experience the devastations of disasters despite not being a contributor to the causes.”

Asikunnaby is a 2019 Commonwealth Scholar from Bangladesh. He completed an MSc in Risk at Durham University.