Increasing the resilience of disaster-prone communities through aquaculture

In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr devastated southern Bangladesh, taking more than 3000 lives and causing USD$2 billion in damage. “Sidr took our crops, fishpond and house, leaving us hopeless,” recalls Gita Roy of Jhalakathi District, who was one of thousands to lose both her home and her source of food and income.

In response to the disaster WorldFish led a USAID-funded project to restore the productive capacity of 46,500 fish, prawn and shrimp-farming households, and capture lessons on how to make disaster-prone coastal communities more resilient.  

To help the farmers prepare for the next aquaculture cycle, the project supplied aquaculture starter packs to each household. “The project gave us lime, oil cake, cow dung and fish fingerlings,” explains Gita.

"I especially valued the aquaculture training. With profits from fish culture, we’ve rebuilt our house and leased a quarter hectare of rice land." - Gita Roy, fish farmer

Analyses of affected farmers’ losses and coping strategies and of agency delivery provided understanding of how settings, assets, livelihoods, damage magnitude, victims’ coping ability and institutional support mechanisms jointly affected how quickly and how well farms recovered.

While 96 percent of beneficiaries reported their main house lost or damaged and half or more of their aquaculture stocks lost, aquaculture proved to be an asset for surviving the disaster, as fish quickly harvested from damaged or polluted farms provided food when households needed it most.

Most farmers repaired their ponds without assistance, with three quarters completing repairs within three months. This shows that post-disaster aid need not allocate resources to pond rehabilitation if the storm comes in November, as Sidr did, because ponds will be ready by seeding time five months later. If, on the other hand, the cyclone hits in April, many farmers will need urgent help rehabilitating ponds.

Despite a second flood in September 2008 that affected 40% of project fish farms, they were more productive that year than in 2006. Farmers harvested 50% more brackish-water shrimp, nearly twice as much fish and five times more freshwater prawn.

“I especially valued the aquaculture training,” Gita says. “With profits from fish culture, we’ve rebuilt our house and leased a quarter hectare of rice land.”

The number of beneficiaries that described aquaculture as their primary livelihood rose to 21% after the cyclone, a tenfold increase.

The project now aims to protect the farms most at risk. Having identified the 23% of farms that flooded four or more times in the past decade, it provides nets for those farmers to set atop pond embankments to retain fish even if ponds overflow.

In partnership with USAID, WorldFish is leading the way in formulating strategies by which small-scale farmers in coastal areas can better withstand the natural disasters that will likely become more frequent and intense with climate change.

4 July 2011

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