Bangladeshi Keya is only 11, but she has already experienced increasingly devastating floods. During the last monsoon, her family spent over one month living on a raised platform the size of a double bed, while their home was under water.She says: "The water was up to our knees, it was really scary. I don't feel good about the floods. I can't study, I can't play, and I can't go to school. I just have to sit at home and stay idle. The school is far away and when the water came in it closed for a month."
“When the floods came we took our things on to a boat and moved. Then some students helped my parents build a new house. It was really scary. There were a lot of high waves, and the strong currents tried to take us away. My youngest brother was the most scared. But we all get really scared when the river is wavy. During the floods my mum just asked us to stay close and stay quiet – she tried to keep us safe.
“The school is far away and it closed for a month when the water came in. Even if we wanted to go we couldn’t. When the water is at a lower level, we used to swim to school and put our books on rafts.”
Living on a raised platform
“We spent one month on the raised platform during the last floods. When the water came in, we raised it – but next time we will raise the platform before it comes. But life is very bad on the platform [note: the platform is roughly the size of a double bed]. We had to do everything there – cook, eat, study, and sleep in the same place. There were six of us on there in a tiny space. We had to wash in the dirty flood water. It was really congested, difficult to lie down, and there was always confusion over cooking, study and eating.
“I got fever during the last floods, and my brother had diarrhoea. It was very painful for me, I had a bad headache. My brother was very ill and my mother gave him oral saline.”
Preparing for floods
“To prepare for the floods, we have been told to build platforms, keep our clothes together, drink clean water, throw away our waste, and not to eat stale, unhealthy food. We have also been told how to bring water from the tubewell, use alum to remove the solid bits, and then boil it so it is safe.”
“When I grow up I would like to be a doctor in Dhaka – I’d like to give help to the needy. If Char Atra doesn’t erode then I will return here, but I think that it will.”
Introduction to Char Atra and Oxfam’s work
Oxfam works with partner Shariatpur Development Society (SDS) in Shariatpur District, which includes the remote river island Char Atra, as part of the wider Oxfam GB River Basin Programme.
Char Atra is approximately 12km by 5km, and is home to approximately 9,500 people.
The average monthly wage is just under £30. Livelihood options include fishing, farming (rice, chillies, and other vegetables) and day labour.
Many men spend long periods – not just during floods – working in nearby towns and cities as rickshaw pullers or brickmakers, to earn money for their families. These people have always been among the very poorest in Bangladesh, and climate change is making life even harder.
The people on this vulnerable island are experiencing increasingly unpredictable flooding as a result of climate change – the floods are becoming deeper and longer lasting and river erosion is getting worse. This is causing widespread loss of homes, crops, and lives.
Floods may stay for longer than a month, and people live with knee-deep, dirty water in their homes. Dysentery and diarrhoea spread as a result of washing in and drinking the filthy floodwater. Oxfam has been working with partner SDS on Char Atra since 1998. Sample activities include:
- Raising homes, latrines and tubewells above the flood level, so people are safe, and have access to clean drinking water.
- Building flood centres (huge areas of raised land with toilets and wells) that can house 200 families and their livestock, so people have somewhere safe to go to if they lose their homes, or they become uninhabitable.
- Giving training on preparing for and living through floods (using oral saline, purifying water, hygiene awareness, using portable clay ovens, storing dry food and fuel).
- Training to women’s groups to save money and use it to support the most vulnerable members of the group, as well as growing vegetables and raising poultry for alternative sources of food and income. This builds confidence, and enables them to participate in family and community life.
- Providing cow vaccinations and livestock training so people have a source of income after the floods.
- Distributing oral saline and water purification tables so families stay healthy during the flood.
- Country climate reference: Suffering the Science, Oxfam Briefing Paper, July 2009. Renton, Alex
cc Photo: Dan Chung