Bangladesh, a low-lying, deltaic country criss-crossed by 300 rivers and streams is at the forefront of climate change. In the southern coastal belt, lies the village of Jhapa, in the sub-district of Shayamnagar, in the district of Sathkhira. If that sounds remote, that is because it is.
The village sits on a riverine silt island, locally called a char. There floods, erosion, cyclones, thunderstorms, torrential rains and other calamitous climatic effects are increasingly more common. Bonomali Mondol, a 65-year-old local, lives with his children and their spouses, making a household of 5. He is aged, for a man from a village in Bangladesh, but his life is not one of retirement and relaxation. In fact, every year his life is torn asunder by the storms, floods and erosion that visit his little village. His house, crops, livestock, the life that he has built up is washed away, and regularly. His wife had fallen sick after Cyclone Aila, 10 years ago in 2009 and has been ailing since.
He sits now, on the bank of the Kholpitaya river, reminiscing about times past. He remembers a time 30 years prior, when the river was a blessing and not a curse. The river was full of fish, the paddies rich with crops and grain, the trees full of fruit and the land green from horizon to horizon. The seasons came and went on time, and were distinct in their colours, weather and flavours. All that is now in the past. Jhapa is now barren and grey, lashed by nature’s ferocious rage.
Before Aila, the Jhapa used to have 500 – 600 families. Since then, the numbers have dwindled to less than half, at 200 – 230. The land has become dry, the fish and livestock are diseased and sickly. Even the water has gotten too salinated to drink safely. People are often out of commission with prolonged sickness, including his younger brother Nimai Mondol, who is now too sick to work. In fact, his condition is worsening by the day, and there seems to be not a thing that anyone can do about it. Their economic conditions are also getting worse, with cultivation and fisheries drying out.
So now he sits on the riverbank, gazing at the setting sun, the gilded rays reminding him of the golden days of his youth. He sighs as he thinks about those happier times, and what life has now become. Friendship is now working on a new concept called Transition Fund to support people like Bonomali to find alternative income generating activities to bring them to the mainstream.