28 days later: the human face of climate change and natural disaster in Bangladesh

June 10, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

On 27 April Mostafa Rokonuzzaman, a young farmer from the village of Tepakhali in south-western Bangladesh, spoke in one of the first public hearings on the impacts of climate change – the hearings revealed a litany of seasonal disruption, including extreme heat, failed rains and warmer winters, all with impacts on their rainfed crops and winter vegetables, notably the salination of the soil that comes from repeated breaches of the river embankment and flooding of their farms.

28 days later, many of the villages that participated in the hearings no longer exist. The cause? Cyclone Aila, which hit Bangladesh on 25 May, producing a storm surge which in combination with a high tide, forced sea water upriver, breaching the embankment that was supposed to protect the population from flooding.

The photos show Mostafa at the hearing and, one month later, trying to salvage a few possessions from the flood water.

Was climate change to blame? As always, direct causation is difficult to establish. Poor maintenance of the embankment and deforestation in the Himalayan watershed leading to soil run off and siltation of the riverbed played a part. But increased glacial melt is also adding to the siltation problem, and the local people swear that the sea level has risen in recent decades.

But whatever the conclusion on the causes of any individual flood, Mostafa’s fate shows what poor people in Bangladesh have to face if, as expected, climate change increases their vulnerability to events like Cyclone Aila. When climate change negotiators discuss the technicalities of ‘adaptation finance’, they should keep these images in mind.

For more on what Oxfam is doing to help people recover from the cyclone, click here.

June 10, 2009
Duncan Green