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‘Peace of thoughts finally’: the Bangladeshi villagers digging their manner out of the floods | International growth

Hamida Khatun is sick of transferring. The 60-year has been displaced about 20 occasions throughout her life, all the time on account of local weather disasters. “They appear to comply with me wherever I’m going,” she says. However in 2019, the floods have been the worst. “I assumed sooner or later it will cease nevertheless it simply saved rising and rising,” says Khatun. She saved herself from drowning by grabbing maintain of a fallen banana tree that was floating previous, and used it as a raft to get to security.

Born in Tangail, central Bangladesh, Khatun moved from one makeshift dwelling to a different alongside the coastal belt earlier than reaching Chilmari, a sub-district within the north, on the west financial institution of the Brahmaputra; one of many world’s largest rivers.

The village of Goynar Potol, south of Chilmari.
The village of Goynar Potol, south of Chilmari. {Photograph}: Farzana Hossen/The Guardian

As soon as a vibrant port, Chilmari is now susceptible to catastrophic flooding. Yearly hundreds of hectares of land quietly crumble into the rivers that wind by way of it. Dashing waters continuously shift the panorama, breaking apart the silty floor and turning it right into a sea with hundreds of tiny islands, often called chars.

Water can rise quick, by virtually 12ft (3.6 metres), submerging homes on the river islands, and sinking weak communities deeper into poverty. Erosion has lengthy been part of life right here, devouring land and livelihoods. However it’s getting worse. Water ranges of all of the main rivers within the nation have been rising and final yr, heavy monsoon rains led to the worst floods in Bangladesh in twenty years.

In 2020, the charity Friendship carried out a examine in Chilmari and located that 85% of displacement was all the way down to riverbank erosion, 56% attributable to flooding and three% attributable to storms. Since then, the displacement fee within the area additional elevated owing to the intensification and frequency of pure disasters.

Latest estimates recommend that by 2050, one in each seven folks in Bangladesh will probably be displaced by local weather change, and as much as 18 million folks might have to maneuver due to sea degree rises.

A plinth in Bangladesh
Every plinth can completely accommodate 20-25 households. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Friendship

Friendship launched a undertaking of plinth housing – constructed on elevated land to create everlasting protected housing in addition to to accommodate displaced households and their possessions throughout floods. It’s a easy approach that has been utilized in flood-prone areas for millennia. Earth is dredged from rivers to create a big, oval-shaped plateau that’s usually 8-10ft excessive, and strategically positioned in order that it will probably stand up to the oncoming rush of water throughout monsoons. Every plinth can completely accommodate 20-25 households and supply momentary shelter to as much as 120 extra in an emergency.

Early one morning, in a area within the village of Mudafat on Austamir char, a neighborhood session is going down. The land has just lately been acquired by Friendship and the development of a brand new plinth will quickly start. A small group of villagers collect round Sahadat Hossain, a land surveyor concerned in planning the undertaking.

“The design of the plinth was initially primarily based on a sq. however later modified to an oval form that faces north. That is supposed to permit water coming from the north to be diverted to both facet of the oval,” says Hossain. “Over right here, in the midst of the sector, will probably be a freshwater pond, which can present a supply of ingesting water and a spot to fish.”

Plinth tasks will not be solely carried out in session with the neighborhood however constructed by them, too. Villagers are employed all through the development interval, enabling them to contribute in the direction of the construct and earn an earnings.

Friendship has constructed 20 plinths since 2011. Every prices about £40,000 to assemble, if the charity is ready to purchase free land. A neighborhood businessman, Mohammed Shahalom, 48, just lately donated a few of his household’s land for a brand new plinth to be constructed. “I’ve lived right here all my life and it pains me to see my folks wrestle,” says Shahalom. “I made a decision to donate the land as sadaqa [charity] and I encourage others to do the identical. There’s a lot land right here that’s simply not being utilised – and there may be all the time goodness in giving.”

Musamat Rahima with her children in their home in the village of Mudafat, Chilmari.
Musamat Rahima along with her kids of their dwelling within the village of Mudafat, Chilmari. {Photograph}: Farzana Hossen/The Guardian

The record of those that will transfer to the brand new plinth is predicated on want. Certainly one of them is Khatun, who’s trying ahead to having a everlasting dwelling for the primary time. “Transferring to the plinth village will give me a peace of thoughts finally,” says Khatun. “I received’t have to fret about transferring once more and ranging from scratch. I can lastly take into consideration my future and work in the direction of it, figuring out it received’t be snatched away so simply.”

On the ready record is Musamat Rahima, 33, who was evicted from her final dwelling for lease arrears. Rahima’s husband, a nut farmer, makes 3,000 taka a month (£22.50), not sufficient for his or her small household. Historically, the first supply of earnings for char dwellers has been agriculture, with nuts, corn, wheat, potato and numerous greens grown within the surrounding fields. However since excessive climate destroys the land and crops, many inhabitants now depend on authorities help.

Rahima joins her husband within the area when she will be able to, although most of her day is spent taking good care of their kids, each of whom are disabled. “Life right here is tough,” says Rahima. “Our future is decided by the water that surrounds us, which takes the whole lot away. It drowns our livestock, kills our crops and leaves us with out hope.”

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During last year’s severe flooding, Rahima was out in the field when the water started to rise. She raced back to her small hut to find her children cowering neck deep in water. “They can’t swim and didn’t understand what was happening,” she says tearfully. “They must have been so scared. We were lucky they didn’t drown.” Rahima and her husband swam to safety, each carrying a child on their back.

The family is waiting to move to the new plinth.

“Moving to a safer environment will be better for us. Due to my children’s disabilities, I live in constant fear of what might happen to them,” says Rahima. “They are constantly sick. One currently has a waterborne skin infection. We get all their medication for free from the Friendship clinic; we couldn’t afford it otherwise.” As main carer, Rahima capacity to work is limited.

Some people walk around a plinth in Bangladesh.
Friendship has built 20 plinths since 2011. Each costs around £40,000 to build. Photograph: Courtesy of Friendship

A recent UN report highlights how women’s lack of access to and control over basic resources makes them even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “Climate impacts are not gender-neutral and affect women and girls more due to societal norms and gender inequalities,” says Maud Aba’a, a project officer at UN Women Bangladesh. “Restricted mobility, especially in the char areas, puts women in Bangladesh at higher risk during climate disasters and at a greater disadvantage. A long-term solution requires a more gender-centred approach.”

Friendship has set up disaster management committees and encourages women to join. “We can all work together to find better ways to keep the community safe,” says Sohrab Hossain, the chair of Austamir char. “Women need to be a part of key decision making as they are the most impacted.”

Several factors are taken into consideration for each plinth, including making space for a schoolroom. “Both the school and our home are solar powered, which means my daughter can study in the evenings and access resources,” says Shoneka Begum, 26, who moved to a plinth in Goynar Potol village, south of Chilmari in 2018.

Shoneka Begum with her children
Shoneka Begum with her children. They moved to a plinth in Goynar Potol in 2018. Photograph: Farzana Hossen/The Guardian

She is determined her three children should get a good education. “It is the only way out of this poverty,” says Begum. Her husband is a vegetable farmer earning 4,000 taka a month, which pushes the couple towards taking loans to make ends meet, a common practice in the community, but microfinance company loans come with interest, often pushing people further into debt.

Begum lives in one of the bigger buildings on the plinth. Her home acts as a temporary shelter during emergencies. In 2020, extreme flooding in the village meant she had to take in approximately 50 people. “I don’t mind helping,” says Begum. “I know how tough it gets down there for families not yet living on a plinth – we all need to help where we can.”

For Begum, living on raised land means she fears her children might hurt themselves. “My son is only two and is constantly running off,” she says. “I’m always having to watch him in case he falls off.” But design features are being built in, for instance, the pond at the centre is barricaded to prevent children falling in and stoves are built away from the reach of young arms.

On the other side of the plinth lives Ibrahim Mollah. “It gets so exhausting moving from one place to another,” he says, sitting outside his home on a warm afternoon. At 80, Mollah finally feels a sense of stability. “I no longer have to worry about what will happen when the flood comes in. And it always does eventually.”

Ibrahim Mollah and his wife Shurjo in their home in Goynar Potol.
Ibrahim Mollah and his wife Shurjo in their home in Goynar Potol. Photograph: Farzana Hossen/The Guardian

Mollah and his wife, Shurio, have been displaced three times; each of three homes washed away during different floods. In 2015, the couple almost drowned.

“We were so scared. The water kept rising and I no longer had the energy to swim,” recalls Mollah. “My wife was holding on to one arm and I could feel her slipping away. I could see dead animals floating around us. I didn’t think we would make it that day.” They were rescued by a passing boat. “We spent the next few months living in a shared emergency shelter. It was very difficult.”

Mollah and Shurio now take regular walks around the pond and can access a nearby medical clinic. “The plinths have been designed so thoughtfully,” says Mollah. “There are people and homes all around us, which makes us feel less isolated. It is more than just a raised hill, there is an intentional sense of community here.”

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