By Denis McClean
DHAKA, 10 December, 2019 - There are probably few slum dwellers from Bangladesh at COP25 -the annual climate conference - in Madrid but women in one of Dhaka’s teeming slums spoke today of the upheaval that the impact of extreme weather and the climate emergency is having on their lives.
All ten women meeting in a tiny corrugated shed in Mollah, in the Mirpur neighbourhood of Bangladesh, had a tale to tell of river bank erosion, a cyclone or a flood that had forced them to give up their livelihood and take the climate migrant route to Dhaka.
They are a representative sample of the 68,000 people that become long-term displaced each year by natural hazards particularly river erosion, according to Mohammad Manirul Islam, deputy Secretary with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
“Every year for the last 30 years we have lost 10,000 hectares of land from river erosion. There is no doubt that weather events are becoming more extreme. We are also seeing emerging hazards. Every year for the last five or six years about 300 people are killed ever year by lightning.,” said Mr. Islam.
It can happen overnight as was the case with the village of Shariatpur which became uninhabitable in March this year, destroying the homes and livelihoods of 2,000 people.
It is twenty years ago that Tasnoor and her family fled their village in Bhola. “Most of the village was destroyed. The family lost every piece of land. We did not know how we would survive.”
Her husband Dulal found work as a driver and her parents have also joined them in the slum.
A similar tale is told by Morjina (60) who described how every year her mud and straw house was destroyed in floods until they finally had enough and moved to Mollah where her brother and three sisters had already moved. She is happy that her three sons have found work and that they all have enough food to eat in a country which 88 out of 117 countries included in the Global Hunger Index.
Kohinoor’s father in law died in Cyclone Sidr in 2007 when she took the well-worn climate trail from Patukhali District to Khulna city where it proved difficult to find work and then moved on to Dhaka. Her husband exchanged his life as a fisherman to take charge of a cycle rickshaw. She sells vegetables.
All of the women we spoke lost their homes in the fire which swept through the slum in 2018 and had to re-build with the help of neighbours. It is a place of remarkable resilience. “We are always facing the danger of fire,” said one woman.
The other challenges they list include unsanitary conditions of the surrounding environment, the heavy rainfall which brings regular flooding into their makeshift homes and the struggle to get official papers given that they have no official address.
They know little about the science of climate change but they all raise their hands when asked if they were feeling its effects.