A South Asian NGO is aiming to be the voice of vulnerable Bangladeshi families at Cop28, representing those who struggle to find safe drinking water in their flood-battered villages.
Mohon Mondol has been working for more than two decades to provide clean water to disaster-prone areas of Bangladesh's south-east coastal regions.
He wants to highlight to world leaders at the climate conference how rising sea levels triggered by global warming are jeopardising livelihoods and forcing landless and small-holding farmers from their homes.
“Our objective is to shout so global leaders will know the problems my people are facing,” Mr Mondol told The National from Munshiganj in central Bangladesh, where he set up the Local Environment Development and Agricultural Research Society (Ledars).
“Every year we attend Cop and it’s just like a picnic. A lot of people come, discuss and make some decisions.
“Global leaders promise but they do not keep their promise. We will raise our voice during Cop because I want the world to understand how my people are surviving and why they are migrating from our forefathers’ land.”
Ledars has won several awards, including the Zayed Sustainability Prize, for its water projects that have helped more than 15,800 families.
Mr Mondol and his team work in villages in which they grew up, where flooding has contaminated ponds of drinking water, making it unfit to drink for consumption.
“There is too much hardship with cyclones and floods. People lose their homes, farms, paddy and their cattle is washed away,” Mr Mondol said.
Men are migrating to cities in search of work to support their families as agriculture has declined due to rising salinity levels, which can cause hypertension, respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cervical infections.
The women and children remain at home but without easy access to clean water.
Some in these villages are forced to walk more than 5km every day to fetch clean drinking water.
Ledars has built rain-harvesting systems that store 10,000 litres of water a year that families are able to share.
Volunteers have installed more than 5,000 biosand filters, a low-tech drinking water solution that uses sand and gravel to filter out contamination.
A single filter costs about 4,000 Bangladesh taka ($36) and has transformed the lives of thousands of families.
They filter pond water available near their home and have been able to eliminate diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
The organisation has also installed reverse osmosis systems in some villages that separate salt from water to make it drinkable.
A water-on-wheels project reaches remote villages that continue to struggle to meet their needs.
The group also teaches villagers to grow rice that is tolerant of saline conditions to help them become food self-sufficient.
A better life
Having a filter installed at home has been life-changing for Uma Mondal in Dhankhali village.
“Whether it was raining or too hot, we walked for about an hour for water and then waited for a long time because there was always a queue,” said the 42-year-old farmer.
“Now the filter makes our pond water clean, we don’t suffer from diarrhoea and cholera any more.”
Instead of walking for hours, she can focus on growing her paddy fields.
Ms Mondal wants a better life for her teenage daughter.
“I want my daughter to be educated,” she said.
“I want her to change society, to do something for the country.”
It is these messages that Mr Mondol will relay at the Cop28 conference that will be held in Dubai, beginning in November.
He aims to reach more villages and build lighter filters that can be easily moved to higher ground in case of flooding, as well as teach agricultural techniques that work in saline conditions.
Be heard at Cop28
Mr Mondol is no stranger to the global climate summit, having attended five previous Cops.
His colleagues were evicted from an area set aside for peaceful protests at Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh last year.
In line with UN guidelines, the UAE has said there will be space available at Cop28 for climate activists to protest peacefully and make their voices heard.
At Cop28, the community group will be part of meetings on water, food and agriculture.
Mr Mondol hopes the conference will deliver on funding promises to support developing nations.
A $100 billion-a-year package was pledged at Cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to help lower-income communities recover from natural disasters.
Mr Mondol said decisions must be made on the loss-and-damage fund agreed to at Cop27 in Egypt to help poorer countries.
“We need those funds,” he said.
“We want global leaders at Cop28 to think of people in the South who are suffering because of climate change but are not responsible for climate change.”
Mr Mondol and other development workers met Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the Cop28 President-designate, and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, in Dhaka when the Cop28 team visited for a fact-finding mission.
The UAE team has met governments and civil society across Africa and Asia to work on climate-action solutions.
“We are optimistic. I’m very much hopeful for this Cop because I feel the UAE has the power to influence global leaders,” Mr Mondol said.
“We need support from the UAE to create pressure on the global community to keep their promises and to bring a good agreement on climate finance.”
1.5°C global target
Mr Mondol said the long-term survival of his fellow Bangladeshis depends on leaders staying true to their promises.
About three billion people worldwide experience water shortages that pose severe risks to livelihood and this will worsen in the coming decades, the UN has warned.
The UAE published a paper at the UN General Assembly in New York last month, calling for a co-ordinated international response to find solutions.
The UN has warned millions will lose their homes to rising sea levels and higher numbers will face water shortages if the agreed global average temperature threshold of 1.5°C target is breached.
“Our people don’t understand what 1.5°C is,” Mr Mondol said.
“But they know climate change means devastation. It means drought, heavy rain and floods.
“I will speak from my heart at Cop28 – people cry when they leave their homes because they don’t want to leave their forefathers' land.
“They have lived through disasters and they are scared.”