Snakes, floods and the struggle for food

Publié: 23 août 2016 6:44 CET

By Rajib Bhowmick, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

Annual monsoon floods come and go in Bangladesh, but the hardship they bring to millions of people along the banks of the mighty Jamuna River never changes.

Nobin Majhi, 25, is the sole bread-earner in his family, who live in the rural village of Majhipara, in Jamalpur district.

The northern district has been hit hard by the recent floods. According to government estimates, around 37 per cent of the district’s population has been affected by the floods, which began at the end of July.

Fishing has provided a living for Nobin’s family for several generations. But with nine mouths to feed, it is a daily struggle to earn enough money.

“My income is nowhere near enough for such a big family. Ensuring just two decent meals for everyone has always been difficult,” said Nobin, who also grows sugarcane.

The seasonal floods, triggered by heavy rain in upstream India, inundate the low-lying districts of the Jamuna basin every year.

The strong current can wash away the earth beneath houses, together with boats and livestock. The current also prevents fishermen from casting their nets.

Constant exposure to water leads to skin diseases and this year snakebites have killed at least 10 people.  Deep tube wells – the only source of safe drinking water – become submerged, leading to a shortage of clean water.

Diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery are the inevitable consequences of having to drink unsafe river water.

One of the biggest impacts of the increased water levels is riverbank erosion. In Bangladesh, erosion is a silent disaster that has displaced millions of people from their ancestral homes over the last few decades.

“We have tried to raise the height of our house, but floodwater levels are also rising every year,” said Nobin.

“The water has receded now, but there is still some in the sugarcane fields. If water stands at the base of sugarcane plants for a few days, they lose their sweetness. Then we don’t get a good price from the local sugar mills.”

The river current is still too strong for Nobin to go out and fish. So with no income, the family has been forced to cut the number of meals they consume.

The Bangladesh Red Crescent, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has launched an emergency appeal to help more than 100,000 people affected by the floods.

“The floods have inflicted significant damage and hardship across the country. Homes have been completely destroyed, there’s a shortage of clean water and lack of toilets. People’s livelihoods have been left in tatters,” said Mozharul Huq, secretary general of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.

“Receding floodwaters do not mean the end of the problem – quite the opposite. This is when people really need help to rebuild their homes and lives. They also need support to ensure they are better prepared for such recurring natural disasters.”