BHOLA, Bangladesh (AP) — When the Mehgna River swallowed Mohammad Jewel and Arzu Begum’s tin-roofed family home overnight in southern Bangladesh just over a year ago, they had no choice but to leave their ancestral village. .
The couple fled the next morning with their four young children to the capital, Dhaka, more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from their home in Ramdaspur village in Bhola district, one of the hardest-hit coastal areas. where many villagers regularly lose their houses and land to the rivers that flow into the Bay of Bengal.
“We grew up watching the river, we live from the river fishing. But now he has taken everything from us,” Jewel said.
“My heart aches when I think of my people, my ancestors, my old days. I had no choice but to leave my birthplace.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring the lives of people around the world who have been forced to move due to rising seas, drought, scorching temperatures and other things caused or exacerbated due to climate change.
The mighty rivers that flow through Bangladesh, such as the Mehgna, originate in the Himalayas or Tibet, and run through the northern and northeastern regions of the country before flowing to the sea in the south. More than 130 rivers crisscross the low-lying nation, some of them prone to severe flooding.
Experts say climate change is causing erratic weather conditions in the country, resulting in rapid collapse of riverbanks and the destruction of one village after another. During the monsoon season, which runs from June to October, many rivers change course, devouring markets, schools, mosques and houses near their banks.
Millions are at risk of being displaced and becoming “climate refugees” due to rising sea levels, river erosion, cyclonic storms and saltwater washing inland, scientists say. Bangladesh is expected to have around a third of South Asia’s internal climate refugees by 2050, according to a World Bank report published last year.
When Jewel and Begum visited their family’s old home in Ramdaspur a year later, even more homes were washed away and the river cut through new land. Jewel said the river never felt so close when he was a child, but each year it got closer.
“By the time we grew up, all the land and houses were destroyed by the river. The place where we are now will also be eroded by the river in a few days,” he added, just a few meters from his old family home.
He said the town was once teeming with small shops and tea stalls, markets and green spaces. The land was fertile. But over the years, people were forced to leave their homes. He estimates that no more than 500 people now live in the once 2,000-strong village.
Walking through the remains of his former community, his wife Arzu Begum is also in pain, even though the abundance of water in recent years has made life difficult for the family.
“I raised my youngest son by tying his legs with a rope tied to the door of my house for fear of drowning. During the tide, the house would fill with water and my youngest son would always move towards the water,” recalls Begum.
“All this was destroyed by the erosion of the river and the people dispersed,” he said, pointing to the houses of friends and neighbors.
“Some live on raised platforms, others in rented houses, others in makeshift shelters on the side of dams, etc. I moved to Dhaka. We lived in a large community. Now all you can see is the river and no one lives there.
“We have been left homeless,” he said.
It is estimated that more than 2,000 migrants arrive in the capital Dhaka every day, many fleeing from coastal cities.
In the northern part of the Bangladeshi capital, officials are building shelters for climate migrants and improving the water supply, but Jewel and Begum’s family is one of many who cannot benefit from these projects. Officials are also working with smaller cities to be designated “climate shelters” that welcome migrants.
Experts say limiting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, especially in high-emitting nations like the US, China and India, will help limit the most drastic weather events around the world.
Now, in the poor Mirpur area of Dhaka, Begum and Jewel live in a one-room shack perched on a swamp and may be far from the burgeoning Mehgna, but they say they can’t adjust to difficult city life.
“We had a place of our own and we didn’t have to pay rent. Our monthly income was enough to support our family,” Begum recalled, referring to his life in Ramdaspur.
“Now we are forced to pay rent on the house and spend so much money on food that what we earn is not enough for the family,” he said.
Her husband earns 12,000 taka ($136) a month doing “dirty work” going door-to-door and sorting household waste, while Begum earns another 4,000 taka ($45) cleaning two different houses. Her income pays the family rent and Jewel’s barely covers the rest of the family’s expenses.
Jewel, who used to fish in her village, says that they lived there happily and thought of giving their children a better life.
“I had a plan to raise my children properly, to send them to school. But now, everything is so uncertain that I don’t know how we would survive. My kids are growing up but I can’t take care of them,” she said.
“My job is very dirty, I don’t feel good sorting through all the nasty things I collect from homes in my wealthy neighborhood,” he added.
“I hate my job. But when I think about how I can survive without a job, I stay calm. Life is not easy.”
Associated Press climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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