A story of river erosion in southwestern Bangladesh
Goni Forazi, a 75 year old man from Dalbhanga South from Barguna, finds himself in a tricky situation. Not only has his land sunk under the Bishkhali River, he has had to move in with his nephew, who also lives on the outer rim of the embankment. It won’t be long until he has to move again.
“I can’t remember the exact year, but I suspect the river started to erode the village around 1962 when my father was still alive,” mused Goni Forazi: “I saw cracks in the river bank, and thought they were just cracks. I didn’t realize the river was coming closer.
First we lost my dada’s house. Then my father built another house much further inland, but in just a few years we lost that too. The erosion started slowly, but then all of a sudden sped up. And now my house is in the river too.”
For the people of Dalbhanga South, this is a common story. Situated in southwestern Bangladesh, the residents of Dalbhanga South, like many in the region, depend greatly on the river for their livelihoods. Although the government recently constructed a mud embankment, there are still close to a hundred households on the outer rim of the embankment.
“My grandfather had around 20 kani of land here,” explained Goni Howladar, a neighbour and close friend of Goni Forazi in Dalbhanga South, elaborating: “He had animals, he had land. He used to farm; he led a rich man’s life.
“But the river came closer, and we lost all our land. Now we are in a hard situation, we are very poor.”
While river erosion and migration has always been a major aspect of life in the Bengal delta, scientists are worried the warming planet will only speed up the process. Studies forecast that as glaciers melt in the Himalayas, this will result in increased upstream river flow leading to more riverbank erosion in the delta.
In her study published in the International Journal of Sciences: Basic and Applied Research in 2013, Dr Nazneen Akter estimated river erosion in Bangladesh would increase by 13% and 18% in 2050 and 2100 respectively based on the assumption of 15% and 20% increment in glacial discharge throughout those years.
Furthermore, the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts coastal erosion will also increase as the oceans warm up and the waves become more vigorous.
Estimates on the impact of climate change on migration in Bangladesh vary. While some studies predict that tens of millions may have to move because of climate change, other reports are more conservative.
Part of the problem in determining the number of “climate migrants” is that migration is a complex issue, and it is difficult to pinpoint climate change as the exact reasons people choose to migrate.
Many like Goni Howladar used to hold on to the hope that one day their land will re-emerge from the sea so they could move back. But, according to Bangladesh law, landowners are required to continue to pay taxes even if their land is under the water; otherwise the government will claim tenure.
“A few people still pay taxes for their land, but I’ve given up,” said Goni Howladar: “I let the government have it. I am not going to stay alive long enough to see my land again.”
Goni Forazi added: “We have lost everything by riverbank erosion and it has paralyzed us.”
Istiakh Ahmed is a researcher and programmer coordinator of the Livelihood programme at ICCCAD.