In memory of our esteemed colleague, written by Dilruba Haider, Programme Specialist, Climate Change, DRR, and Humanitarian Actions
UN Women Bangladesh
First time I saw Dr Saleemul Huq was some 30 years ago, at Disaster Forum (a disaster management platform of NGOs) meeting, which was run by Oxfam and funded by Aid Management Office Dhaka (former United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office). As an AMOD employee responsible for DF funding, I used to attend all the DF meetings and saw him a few times talking about the problem of arsenic pollution of ground water that the country was grappling with that time.
I saw him again in 2010, when he came to Dhaka after spending years at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK. That time, he was promoting community-based adaptation. Gradually he set up the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Dhaka. I continued to encounter him in various meetings; he made it a point to include me in his new ideas and initiatives, including ICCCAD’s annual conference: Gobeshona, a group on locally led adaptation, or women climate leaders. I met him in regional conferences, met him at UNDP corridors, at UN Women Country Rep’s office as well as at the conference room.
He was not only a visionary, exuding passion and love for a better future for people and the planet, he was an exceptional man who could show respect, care, and kindness to each individual he ever met, and make each person feel special. He was also one of those rare men with a combination of character and intellectual prowess; he truly respected women and girls. When he spoke about the importance of gender equality aspects to be mainstreamed in climate actions, he truly believed in it; it wasn’t lip service, or him trying to be just politically correct. It was this belief of his that facilitated signing of a memorandum of understanding between ICCCAD and UN Women in April this year. We planned to do so many things together to promote gender equality and climate action in the country and at the global level. He was supportive of all the points I ever raised in any meeting, which of late have mostly been around gender equity and inclusivity in climate action, because he believed in those points himself. He believed in women’s leadership capacity, he advocated for capacity building of young girls to carry the torch of climate championship and warriorship.
Dr Saleemul Huq passed away on 28 October 2023, due to massive cardiac arrest, at his home. His death has shocked the entire climate change action community at home and abroad. He was very active and preparing for the global climate summit COP28. When I wrote to him about a month ago with regards to a side-event that UN Women has been planning to hold at COP28 with the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change on the issue of ‘women’s leadership in locally-led adaptation’ and requested him to be in the panel of discussants, within minutes (which was his style) he replied, “Go ahead and take whatever time they offer you. Use my name in your programme”.
I’ll go to COP28, my first COP, and the first-ever COP the world will have without you bhaia.
Dilruba Haider is a Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change Adaptation and Humanitarian Action practitioner, working in the area for 24 years. She is currently working at UN Women to ensure that gender equality and women's empowerment is addressed in Distaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change Adaptation/High Availability's. Not only to ensure women and girls rights but also to maximise the impacts of these interventions benefiting men, women, boys and girls on the basis of equity.