River erosion – a silent disaster in Bangladesh

Published: 5 September 2016 5:50 CET

By Sam Smith, IFRC communications delegate

“Where is my childhood home?” Mosammat Monjuri Begum pauses for a moment before answering.

“At the bottom of the river, underwater.”

The 47-year-old simply shrugs when asked if that upsets her. The mother-of-one is emotionally attached to her birthplace, but like everyone else, she has become accustomed to the omnipresent threat of river erosion in Bangladesh.

“Every two or three years we had to move house. The river erosion has been huge during my lifetime,” said Mosammat.

“We were never able to build a proper house to protect ourselves against the floods or erosion. We suffered a lot.”

Last month’s monsoon floods in Bangladesh have damaged more than a quarter of a million homes.

Some 17,000 houses have been completely washed away due to river erosion, according to government estimates.

The displacement caused by river erosion and flooding is a yearly crisis, one that is set to get worse as climate change further disrupts weather patterns.

More than 120,000 people are displaced by river erosion every year in Bangladesh. 

“The floods come every year, but this year the water level was higher than the previous couple of years,” said Mosammat.

“Our kitchen and crops were damaged. The water came into our house and the roads were swamped.”


Preparing for the floods

Despite the damage caused to homes, Mosammat and her neighbours in the village of Majhipara were not too badly affected.

The community, in the northern district of Jamalpur, is part of a Bangladesh Red Crescent resilience programme.

The Red Crescent has installed elevated tube wells and toilets in the village, meaning people could still fetch clean drinking water during the floods.

Red Crescent volunteers have also taught the community about preparing for floods and maintaining good hygiene to avoid the spread of waterborne diseases.

The resilience work, which is supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has benefitted around 400 families in the village.

As a result, it seems Mosammat and her family will not be shifting their home again any time soon. 

“We don’t need to move from this spot, we are happy here,” she said.

“We can still get fresh water from the well during the floods and we can still use the toilet. There are not so many cases of diarrhoea as before.

“This is our home and we don’t want to move again.”

Around 3.7 million people have been affected by monsoon floods in Bangladesh in recent weeks. The IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for 1.6 million Swiss Francs (USD 1.7 million, Euros 1.5 million) to support the Bangladesh Red Crescent in reaching 105,000 people with emergency assistance.