During our journey back on a ferry to Dhaka from Bagerhaat, I kept thinking about the unending resiliency of our people to adapt with the nature’s fury that often disrupts their lives. I also learned a critical lesson from Dr. Huq. That people, above all, are at the core of development in Bangladesh.
Our field trip took us to several villages in Bagerhaat and Gopalganj districts where climate-induced hazards like flood and cyclone are common occurrences during the monsoon season. The villages we saw had one common thread that holds them together – people. Their adaptive skills and resiliency to deal with natural disasters are at first sight unthinkable. But as we talked more with them and looked deeply into their lives, it became apparent that their innovative skills and strength of bonding as a community have made them less susceptible to the natural disasters. More importantly, these skills have improved their livelihoods and saved lives.
At Haridah, we sat with a group of women in a small hut on a raised platform as a protection from flood to discuss their lives. Several men stood at the periphery of the hut. Mostly women talked to us while the men watched and listened. The talked about shrimp farming, flood protection issues, and general livelihoods. At Mitradanga, we met with a large group of women who wanted to share their lives with us. They wanted to tell us how they lived. They wanted to know what more we could do for them so that they did not have to relocate when flood water inundated their homes and consumed their means of livelihood.
In both villages we discovered two factors that have accelerated development in Bangladesh for the last 10 years – empowerment of women and adaptive capacity of common people. Women now participate in community meetings along with men to discuss strategies to cope with the disasters. Besides raising their children, many women have become small entrepreneurs to supplement their household income. ‘We don’t have time to sit around,’ said one woman in Haridah. ‘We all need to work together’. Another woman said that NGOs have taught them to use their resources so that they can too have a strong presence in the community. In Mitradanga, women and men as community members presented their demands to local and national representatives to build an embankment to save their village. Eventually the ‘Berrybadh’, the name of the embankment, was built around Mitradanga. The people in Haridah depends on shrimp farming these days because of massive flooding in 1987 that salinated the traditional rice fields. Since then, people have adapted shrimp farming as an alternative means of their livelihood. Interestingly, we learned that people in Haridah are now thinking about how to grow rice despite the presence of saline waters.
The incessant noise of the ferry engine from beneath us finally interrupted my thoughts and as I saw the ferry aimed its bow towards the ghat, docking place, I realized what an enriching experience it has been for me to learn about the people of Bagerhaat and Gapalganj districts. Most importantly, it was the humbleness of the people that moved me the most.
By: Iqbal Ahmed, Visiting Researcher, ICCCAD July Newsletter 2014