Bangladesh battles flooding caused by sea level rise and ice melt

With more meltwater from the Himalayan rivers and sea level rise caused by global warming, in addition to erratic monsoons, up to 70% of Bangladesh gets flooded every year. Besides, the increasing number of cyclones has made coastal communities, severely affected by the floods, climate refugees in their own land.

The South Asian delta of Bangladesh is a low-lying land with a network of several rivers and their tributaries. It is an intertwined structure of land and water. The low-lying lands get flooded by the rivers often, and are not suitable for human habitation.

During my trips to Bangladesh, the picture of a country suffering from a number of existential threats including a series of natural calamities moved me to a great extent that I decided to document and depict the issue through raw, unedited images.

Monsoon causes severe flooding in Netrokona district through which five rivers flow, leaving villagers marooned in their huts. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee

Bangladesh is among the top ten countries with a high population density, as per World Bank data. The current population of Bangladesh is 166 million. Given its vulnerable location geographically, natural threats pose added risks to the country that is witnessing an increase in population, poverty and food crisis.

Bangladesh has been experiencing the impact of global warming too. Due to the melting of ice in the Himalayan region, rivers like Ganges and Brahmaputra along with their tributaries get a large flow of water. Monsoon brings even more water, flooding villages. Every year, floods can submerge 30 to 70% of the country, as per research data.

The coast of the Bay of Bengal, especially in Bangladesh, has been witnessing a series of cyclones in recent years. The number of cyclonic depressions that used to be two or three per year has increased to seven or eight. The change in the onset and end of monsoon also shows the change in the climate pattern.

Cyclone alert systems help the common people to some extent. But the changes in climate are so rapid and unpredictable that the prevention measures against storms and cyclones always fall short.

People living in the coastal areas of Bangladesh suffer the consequences of sea level rise caused by global warming. They see their houses and lands getting inundated. Thousands of people become homeless in no time. There is no assurance for the permanence of their house. The resources of food and drinking water become limited. Some resources get contaminated in the aftermath of floods.

Children on the water front in Bhola – the largest island in Bangladesh, with the exposed roots of a tree indicating the level of erosion. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee

The embankments that the government erected are not able to prevent the strong tidal forces. The embankments are damaged in several places, leading to flooding. Sea level rise at Cox’s Bazar, a port city, is around 8mm per year as per data collected over the last 20 years. This is nearly five times the average global sea level rise.

The people of Bangladesh living in low-lying areas have become rootless, considering all dimensions of life. They have become climate refugees, a new identity that has emerged in the twenty-first century. Families who had their own lands and houses earlier, are living as climate refugees in corrugated tin sheds in newly developed colonies. Scientists predict that by 2050, a minimum of 25 million people of Bangladesh will face the aftermath of sea level rise.

Rain clouds gather over an already flooded Netrokona, where a man prays on his boat. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
The Bay of Bengal coast witnesses increased number of cyclones, affecting the lives of inhabitants. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Villagers who once owned lands and houses have become climate refugees living in sheds made of corrugated tin sheets, which also get inundated. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Villagers seen on the banks of Meghna River in Bhola Island, which has been witnessing rising seas. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
With the land around them flooded, a man uses his boat to bring grass for his cattle. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Faster melting of ice, caused by global warming, has led to increased flow of water in rivers, like in Kirtankhola River of Barisal city which has a floating market. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Floods can submerge up to 70% of Bangladesh every year, leaving villagers marooned in their house. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
The Bay of Bengal coast is more prone to cyclones and storms, often leaving villages flooded. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
As waters surround their house, the same flood water is their only source for all household usage, like for bathing her child for this woman. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Marooned by the flood waters, women have to bring drinking water in a boat. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Through the flooded waters, two men try to bring ashore one of the wooden logs that had been brought by boats. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Having owned land and proper houses, rising waters have made coastal villagers climate refugees staying in sheds made of corrugated tin sheets. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Two men relocate stacked bricks, as the place became inundated with flood water. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Frequent flooding has become common in Bangladesh due to increased number of climate-induced storms and cyclones. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Global warming which leads to faster melting of ice, has been leading to increased flow of water in rivers. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Villagers try to salvage paddy crop from fields that have been inundated by floods. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Fishermen return with their meagre catch as storm clouds gather in Netrokona. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Fishermen take shelter in a local fish market in Netrokona during a storm. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
A man carries bricks from an inundated brick kiln in Netrokona which experiences frequent flooding. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
During storms villagers use country boats, as seen in Khaliajuri in Netrokona district. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
As the climate pattern has become unpredictable and flooding becomes a part of life, residents use boats to move between places. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Having become climate refugees, a woman and her children watch a boat from their marooned tin shed house. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee
Despite frequent flooding, life goes on – like these children learning Arabic in a madrasa – a religious institution, built with corrugated tin sheets. Photo: Supratim Bhattacharjee

Storyteller

Supratim Bhattacharjee

Supratim is a documentary photographer, based in Kolkata, India.

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