|Living with Disasters: River Bank Erosion, Displacement and Consequenc|
|Islamic Relief Worldwide-Bangladesh|
|Description||Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011|
MILLIONS of people are now suffering from displacement due to river bank erosion in the northern part of Bangladesh. Sufferings of these people go unnoticed in our development strategies, and even if it is noticed in a limited scale, we fail to have proper policy and intervention that can really help these people. Yes, money is spent, especially by some non-government organisations, but these are quite scattered and incomprehensive and don’t properly address the core problem.
Over the course of the 21st century, climate change is expected to increase the risk of more frequent and severe floods through higher river flows resulting from heavier and more erratic rainfall in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna system during the monsoon and increased melting of the Himalayan glaciers. Its physiography and river morphology also contribute to recurring disasters. International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 2000 identified river erosion as the largest concern for Bangladesh. But very few people are concerned about it.
People sustain various kinds of losses due to disasters which affect young children, homes, crops, land, trees, poultry and livestock etc, which makes them more vulnerable after displacement in the northern char areas of Bangladesh. They cannot maintain the status of life, after displacement, as they earlier maintained. They suffer from socio-political exclusion and economic insecurity. They are not even certain about how long it will take to get back to the earlier level of income. Also, they have to wait for a certain period to be involved in the social activities and to be accepted in society.
DISASTERS often cause severe social exclusion especially after displacement of people due to river erosion and sometimes for flood. In the northern part of the country, chars are sustainable for three to four years, which is very problematic for people as after one year, a char becomes liveable and after two and a half to three years it becomes cultivable. Here is an indigenous technique very prevalent in the northern part of the country for deciding when or whether to inhabit a char. They take this decision by observing the straw growing in the char. Observing the straw growing there they can tell if this char will be stable for a few years and if it will be cultivable. The problem arises for them when they start getting crops; they are to leave the char, deprived of a long term output from the land area they prepared.
The male working people migrate to the cities, especially to the capital city, for four to five months in a year, leaving their families alone. For this, they need to be ensured that during their absence their wives and children will be taken care of by someone and that they will be in a secure situation. But when people are displaced and live in a new place, they do not have any relative or trustable neighbours who can take care of the family. Again, without migration, they do not have any means to support the family. So, they go for searching for livelihood, leaving their wives and children in anxiety.
The treatment people receive in the new area after displacement is quite inhuman. They are addressed as ‘nodi bhanga manush’ (people displaced by river erosion) and they are treated as inferior outsiders. Even in the social rituals, the displaced people, until they pass a certain period of time and get mixed into the community, are not allowed to participate. When there is any occasion or feast in the community, the poor, displaced people, especially children, try to join it to get a chance to get some good dishes, but they are turned away. But in the religious and educational institutions they are not discriminated, except in the sessions in making village policies. In the rural areas of Bangladesh, village policies are formulated in the village level meeting with the participation of all family heads and if anyone violates the rule, the judgment is also given in these meetings. The displaced people are normally not allowed to share their opinions in these meetings until the passage of a certain period when they become the part of the society.
A RECENT study conducted in a char of the northern part of Bangladesh shows that 71 per cent of the people become displaced due to river erosion, 22 per cent of them due to flood. And there is hardly a family which has not ever been displaced. In the survey, 77 per cent of the respondents were found to be displaced for more than three times and while conducting the survey, such a man was found who, in his 52 year life span, was displaced 36 times. This frequent movement of people makes them unwilling to do something that can support their permanent livelihood as earning livelihood depends on one’s stability in an area, which these people lack. There are no small and medium enterprises in the northern part of the country for two reasons: people do not have that much money for investment and they are on a continuous move to a new dwelling in another char which hinders creation of a social bond and acquaintance with local people, which is very vital for running a business or even a grocery shop.
In the survey, 53 per cent of the respondents said that after displacement, it takes more than six months to have a regular earning as they had before. Some of them claimed that it often takes more than one and a half years to have this income. And 24 per cent of them replied that when they will have a normal regular income as they used to is quite uncertain. After displacement and before getting a normal earning, they are to go through a very critical situation and at this moment they manage to support their life mainly by three ways: migrating to Dhaka, borrowing money from both formal and informal sector and by selling the assets they had. Among these three, most of them see migration to Dhaka as a safer route rather than searching for loans or selling assets because when they want to migrate to the capital city or to some other cities, the money lenders are assured that they will be able to return the money. This sort of money lending is safer for the lenders as the families of the borrowers are within their reach and so there is a little possibility of problems in recovering the money. People get two to three thousand taka from the micro-finance institutions or from other formal sectors with a huge amount of interest rate, give the money to the family for running the cost of one month before he sends some money.
As disasters cause a huge loss to agriculture, it induces problem for both the agri-labours and the farmers. When agricultural output is smaller, it not only harms the farmers but also do the same to the employment scope of these labourers.
Economic insecurity sometimes makes char people hostile and it was once very common scenario in Bangladesh that people are fighting, after setting a date, time and venue, for taking control over the chars. It is now outdated but people’s behavioural difference is much more evident. While continuously going through the days of toil and hardship, they become restless and cruel. There may be some other factors but there is no way to ignore that economic insolvency and insecurity make their behaviour and social life different from others.
Policymakers and development agents should notice these inhuman scenarios. There are lots of painful stories to hear and millions of lives to safe; otherwise the entire gamut of development interventions, both by the government and non-government sectors, will be questioned. We need to see the reality in the ground and come up with proper policy and interventions immediately with sufficient allocation of money.