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Bangladesh: Isolated flooding forces entire villages to flee

Kahnpur is a small village in south western Bangladesh, home to about 200 households of farmers, nestled between green rice paddies and ponds.

Except it’s not – its people uprooted on mass, it now sits about a kilometre and a half away on the outskirts of the town of Tala.

Flooded fields in Tala sub-district

The village, now an assortment of rapidly constructed basic shelters, lies snake-like on the side of paved footpaths and the occasional muddy patch of woodland, which is the only remaining stable high ground to live on.

The villager’s homes have been flooded for two months now, and are still submerged up to shoulder height.

They hope to be able to return in a few months more, in order to be able to plant the next harvest of rice. If this isn’t possible, then they’re really in trouble.

Village life makes a desperate attempt a continuing, but it is almost impossible.

Neighbouring villages have also suffered the same fate, so there is not enough work for the large number now without fields to tend.

Schools have also been flooded, and are likely to remain so for some months, so children play around the makeshift shelters and in the adjacent ponds, their education indefinitely on hold.

Cramped

Conditions are terribly cramped – whole families live in small shelters only a few meters wide, constructed of nothing but bamboo and plastic sheets.

Their few possessions clustered around them, any animals they managed to save live with them in close proximity. It really is a hard scene to convey, particularly when what you see far outstrips your ability to describe it.

A child friendly space

I’ve been here coordinating the logistics of our emergency relief project.

With the help of our local partner Uttaran, have been able to distribute emergency items (such as plastic sheeting, pots and pans).

We’ve also been constructing emergency wells and latrines, and set up ‘child-friendly spaces’ which provide somewhere for children to play and learn despite their surroundings.

Next steps

In the coming months we will be focusing on providing cash for work and training, building further latrines and wells, and also distributing soap and household items to families.

Logistically speaking, there are many difficulties to overcome, particularly when even a trip to our partner’s offices requires a boat to traverse the flooded fields.

Space for construction is incredibly hard to come by, and infrastructure is poor generally – transport of materials will require trucks, pickups, motorbikes, boats, rickshaws, hand-pulled carts, and a lot of hard manual labour.

Surprise

It is often said that in Bangladesh it floods every year and so the people are used to it – in fact, this area is not used to flooding and it took everyone by surprise.

The people are hardy and are getting by, but are totally at the mercy of the environment with no idea when they can return to their homes, or what they will find when they do.

Though we can only do so much to help, it is warmly received by the villagers of Kahnpur.

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