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Natural Disasters are moving vast numbers of people to city slums

Many village houses are becoming uninhabitable due to frequent flooding caused by storms and cyclones.

Sometimes whole villages are submerged by the waters, remaining flooded for many months. Chakla in Bangladesh’s Satkhira district has not yet re-emerged from the flooding caused by Cyclone Amphan which decimated the south of the country in late May 2020.

Many villagers were not only displaced, but their livelihoods destroyed.

Farmers like Iqbal, have decided that enough is enough. He has started to abandon his farm and move his family to the city. The move is necessary to allow him to survive but ends decades of family history as village farmers. The frequent natural disasters have disrupted his way of life and he can no longer live in his family home or farm his land.

November 2020 marked 50 years since the devastating Cyclone Bhola killed at least 300,000 people in Bangladesh. Although work by the Government on flood defences and early warning systems has reduced the death tolls, the frequency of natural disasters makes it increasingly difficult for villages to recover. It is estimated that 300,000 people have been displaced in the coastal areas of Satkhira and Khulna. Whole villages were submerged when the embankments of the local rivers burst, having been worn away by repeated storms. In Khulna’s Pratapnagar area, all 18 villages remain under water.

The displaced population have little place to go and, since the recent cyclone, most have moved to government land, camped out by the riverside or near roads or in cyclone shelters.

The cyclone comes as the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic which has cost migrant workers their jobs in the cities or abroad.

Although two rice planting seasons and harvests have had to be forfeit, it is not just traditional farming which has been affected. Villages often constructed ponds to provide sustainable access to fish or to farm shrimps but these have also been washed away, along with their fish and shrimp stocks. Other industries reliant on farming have been affected with even drivers transporting crops to market having to sell their vehicles. As the waters remain high, tens of thousands are moving to the cities and to a change of life. The combination of the pandemic and the cyclone have created a complex crisis. The country needs to build sustainable solutions and not just quick fix flood prevention. There needs to be full ecosystem management. Although Bangladesh has improved its flood warning systems, there is little Government assistance provided to displaced victims to help them to recover and rebuild their lives.

Similarly, promised improvements to flood defences often fail to materialise. Many villages that lay in Cyclone Amphan’s path suffered ini 2007 and 2009 when cyclones Sidr and Aila hit yet the damaged embankments went unrepaired with applications for funding never being approved.

The frequent flooding means that, long-term, Bangladesh’s rural populations are moving into already crowded cities, expanding their slums.

With rising sea levels caused by climate change, this exodus will continue unless proper investment is made to provide a long term solution to a difficult problem. The solution will require assistance from both the Bangladesh Government but also from the international community. Without this focus, whole areas of Bangladesh will become uninhabitable and cities, with their own problems, will continue to expand.

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