The road is not wide, but it winds through communities of several thousand people. Even here, close to the 2 kilometer-wide Jamuna river, every inch of land is precious in highly-populated Bangladesh. We’re in the community of Chondonbaisha, home to 200 families who have lost their homes to river erosion this month.
River erosion is a constant threat in Bangladesh. Most of the land is simply mud, carried by the Jamuna and other rivers as they drain the Himalayas. Each flood season brings danger, as rivers whip across the plain, carving new courses for themselves day after day. Houses can disappear overnight, plunging people into defenseless destitution. In a less densely-populated place, people would live further from the riverbank; in Bangladesh, that is simply not an option.
The last light is fading as we get out of the car. On one side of the road are the candles and lights of the village of Chondonbaisha; on the other side of the road, uninterrupted darkness.
Saleh Uddin, FH/Bangladesh Director of Program Operations, points down at the road. “Be careful.” It takes me a second to realize what he means, until I see a crack beneath my feet. I move quickly back. This erosion is going on right now.
We walk a little further down the road towards the local government headquarters – an unfinished two-story concrete building with a roof but only some walls. The river is close by, and we’re already stepping carefully over puddles, from one pile of mud to another.
The building we reach is full of families, cooking on smoky yellow kerosene flames, crammed into small corners and sheltering behind makeshift tarpaulins pulled over the gaps in the walls. Out beyond the muddy ground this is built on is the massive darkness of the river. We reach the riverbank, surrounded by people. Saleh points out into the darkness.
“The village used to be there.” His arm takes in a swathe of the horizon – in the dying light I can just see a dark shape, which I had assumed was an island, about 500 meters away – and he says, “That was the embankment. The flooding happened between here and there. It’s about 2 kilometer-wide.”
A whole community was displaced, and that’s who is hiding in the government building. Saleh tells me that the contractors had not handed over the building yet, and so to recoup some of their losses they’re going to start demolishing the building tomorrow. “Before it’s in the river.”
We talk to some of the villagers. ‘The river moved so quickly. We lost everything. All we could do was run.”
In fact, this community has already been evacuated once, and FH participants in the community had already spent their shared savings trying to ensure a better home for their families. Now it’s all lost – and they must try to find a way to start again, for yet another time.
You can help by giving to the FH disaster relief fund.
Story submitted by David Burton, 28th Sept. 2012