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     Volume 7 Issue 24 | June 13, 2008 |

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Wiping Bangladesh off the Map

Hana Shams Ahmed

Photo by Shaiful Chowdhury

Last year Bangladesh faced a double blow of environmental disasters. The monsoon season flood stayed much longer than anticipated. The North, which was just recovering from the monga (near famine), was washed away. Then came Sidr. People in the coastal areas, used to getting danger signals intermittently, didn't take this one seriously enough. Even if they had, there was not much they could have saved. Sidr was more ferocious than any cyclone in recent history. There are still remnants of its fury in the form of broken trees and houses in many areas in Patuakhali, Kuakata and Shoronkhola. In addition every year the major rivers and their tributaries gorge, overflow and flood the banks. Homes, crops, schools, markets and roads get washed away forever. A study report of the Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) predicted that river erosion could make 29,000 people homeless within a year.

Floods, cyclones, river erosion, thick fog, extreme heat and extreme cold temperatures -- one comes after the other in this small country of 147,570 sq km. A relatively small space in the world map. Yet this country is home to nearly 150 million people, one of the most over-populated countries in the world. According to International Institute for Environment and Development's (IIED) Climate Change programme, tens of millions of people are set to be displaced by global warming in Bangladesh through rising sea levels and droughts. With global warming, where surface temperature of the earth could rise by about 1.8° to 6.3°C by 2100 Bangladesh would be the worst hit by any rise in sea levels.

FK Bangladesh Network recently launched an event on Climate Change in order to raise awareness about the causes and effects of climate change in Bangladesh. Drik and Ain O Salish Kendra arranged a photo competition. 164 photographers submitted a total of 604 entries. Apart from the gallery version of this exhibition, there will also be mobile versions on five rickshaw vans. The rickshaw vans will be travelling to places in Netrokona, Gaibandha, Pabna and Sirajganj districts.

Photo by Saiful Huq Omi

Each of the photos at the exhibition are a moving tribute to the people, whose homes have been uprooted, sources of livelihood taken away and lives changed forever. The first prize went to Shafiul Chowdhury who documented last year's unnatural rainfall in Chittagong. Floods resulting from the rains inundated the city and normal life came to a standstill. The photo shows a flurry of activity by people to get to dry ground. Khaled Hasan's photo of a man's bare back looks at two interesting aspect of climate change -- the suffering of the ordinary worker in extremely hot conditions and in the background the mindless pollution from brick kilns that take place all over the country. It won the second prize at the competition. Saiful Huq Omi's representation of river erosion, which won third prize, shows a man standing dangerously close to the sea, watching his land being eaten away. Munem Wasif's work, which received special mention, puts in a nutshell what Sidr did to the South. A broken boat, one man's livelihood, destroyed forever. In the background, debris of trees and homes shows the devastation.

Apart from global warming, side effects from industrialisation is adding to Bangladesh's climate woes in a big way. Toxic materials in a ship-breaking yard, deforestation, air pollution from vehicles, destruction of natural habitats, population growth and migration towards the cities are just some of the ways we are destroying the planet. All this and more are depicted in the works displayed at the exhibition. A man carrying the body of his dead grandchild after Sidr is a poignant image of nature's fury.

Climate change is happening. There is no turning back. Only through awareness at all levels can we hope to, at the least, delay its devastating effects.

Clockwise from Top-Left: Photo by K M Asad, Photo by Saiful Huq Omi, Photo by Kahled Hasan and Photo by Munem Wasif


Photos: Drik

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