The story of a farmer from South Bardal, Sunamganj shows how native knowledge can contribute to effective adaptation
Sunamganj, the land of folk music and immensely beautiful haors, attracts thousands of tourists every year. Despite its natural beauties, the people of haors are not living a decent life. Flash floods and pre-monsoon floods have become a common natural hazard in Sunamganj, making it a new normal for the people of Sunamganj.
Due to heavy rainfall at the Indian hill range, a huge amount of water inundated the haors as the region is low-lying and flat with gentle slopes. Upstream water flow comes from bordering steep upland area of Assam. In 2020, a record level of water was observed, and people said it was one of the worst floods they have seen in the last 10 years.
Recently, a scientific report by Hossein Taberi, published in Nature Research stated that the hydrological cycle is changing its pattern with global warming, which likely is increasing the intensity of extreme precipitation and the risk of flooding.
Sudden onset disasters like flash floods are the result of environmental conditions caused by climate change. Many factors are responsible for the flash flood, but climate change is speeding up the process. The major rivers of Sylhet areas receive so much water that they overflow every year in the monsoon. Roads get submerged and daily lives are hampered. People deal with so many problems every year that they have developed some local adaptation techniques.
“Many factors are responsible for the flash flood, but climate change is speeding up the process”
Although the resources are not enough to fight climate change, they are using their techniques to face the challenge. The villages in the haors are faced with countless adversities. Houses of thousands go underwater and so the croplands.
South Bardal is one of the affected villages and the story starts with an old strong farmer, named Mohammad Delowar.
Delowar lives in South Bardal with his family of five children, three of them are girls. His poorly built house could not stand strong when the tides of flash flood hit. Watching his own house go underwater is hard.
Recently, he has elevated his house by piling up stones and bags of sand to keep it dry as much as possible. Delowar said, “Every year is a new challenge. Survival is getting tougher than ever. I may take some measures to protect my house, but nothing stops my crops from flooding during a flash flood. Living with all the uncertainty during this time is unbearable. Every year I have to send my two sons to relatives’ houses. But to continue the daily household work, I had to keep my daughters at home even if the situation was not in their favour”.
He has also planted swamp trees in front of his house like other villagers did in Bardal. It has been seven years since he did so, and many of them have now grown big. The belt of trees are protecting the houses in the area from flooding by slowing down the tidal waves.
Another big problem is the scarcity of pure water. Many of the villagers are keeping their water tank high from the ground. “I have plans to make a water tank out of cement and place it at a significant height so that my wife does not have to go far to collect pure water,” said Delowar.
Floods have always been a frequent occurrence in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh. Flood water stays on average for about six months. But the alarming issue is, the magnitude and frequencies of flash floods in most of the haor regions are increasing every year.
The people of Sunamganj have evolved quite a number of strategies and techniques to adapt to all the adversities. All these adaptation techniques are saving them somehow. With ICCCAD and YCL I have been exploring the adaptation techniques being adopted by communities in the haor region and my local research project has been trying to expand on how women of this region are coping and adapting to floods.
Tabia Tasnim Anika is working with ICCCAD as the YCL Climate Resilience Collective Program Associate. Her research interest lies in climate action and adaptation. Can be reached at [email protected]