Woman's life changed by a simple embankment

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Fresh water used to be a rare find in the coastal Khulna region of Bangladesh where floods frequently brought salt water inland, killing crops and contaminating wells. Women like Kirtonia had to walk for hours in search of clean drinking water. But thanks to a new embankment, Kirtonia's life has changed.

BOIRAGIKHALI — For many people, accessing fresh water is a matter of opening a faucet. But for 30-year-old Taposhi Kirtonia, it took a four-hour walk from her home in rural southern Bangladesh to the nearest fresh water stream.

"We sometimes even resorted to buying water from neighbors who owned carts and could collect extra when they went down to the stream," says the young mother. "But at a time when we could hardly feed ourselves, having to buy drinking water was almost too much to bear."

But that’s changed with a new embankment built with support from the European Union’s development body, DEVCO, that not only provides residents like Kirtonia with fresh water, but protects them from frequent bouts of flooding.

Salty water

Finding clean drinking water is a challenge in the coastal district of Khulna, where Kirtonia's village of Boiragikhali is located. Salty ocean water has flowed inland, destroying crops and filling up ponds, lakes and canals that local residents once relied on for their water.

To make matters worse, a pair of major cyclones — Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009 — battered the area, killing thousands and leaving survivors like Kirtonia and her family homeless and destitute.

To address these problems, a project sponsored by DEVCO got under way to build an embankment that keeps the seawater at bay.

People like Kirtonia helped to build the embankment and in return received both cash and food to feed their families, through a WFP programme called “Food for Work”.

Stormy weather

"With the money I earned, I can afford to pay for my son's education and buy him textbooks," Kirtonia adds of her 12-year-old son Prince, who spent two years at home for lack of money.

Now that the sea water no long comes inland, the soil quality has improved and farmers are able to turn better harvests. In addition, women like Kortonia no longer face marathon walks to get water and can breathe a little easier when the weather gets stormy.

In fact, her family has moved closer to the embankment, which shelters their home and farmland from floods and storms. It also serves as a road to the nearest village providing easy access to the markets and services available there.

When the rains come, fresh water now fills the local reservoir, allowing the family to farm shrimp which boosts their modest income.

Bangladesh's stormy weather is no longer something Kirtonia has to worry about.