Page 14 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 14


       Where will they go?                                  Ponds and canals have been concreted over with no regard
       Travelling inland from the salt-soaked coast,        for the natural drainage they provided. Monsoon rainbursts
       the trees get taller, the cows wandering across      frequently submerge streets in knee-high water.
       the road fatter, the crops more diverse: jute,       Climate change will only intensify the pressures that drive
       banana, bitter gourd. Every field and pond is in     people to the capital. If the slums are claustrophobic, the
       use; there is seasonal work to be found, but no      alternative – leaving the country – is daunting. India is
       permanent home for the dispossessed.                 welcoming enough to middle class Bangladeshis doing their
                                                            Eid shopping, but an armed border patrol is there to deter
       Nazzma Begum came from Bhola, on the coast, as an    unskilled labourers. Catching a plane to a wealthier nation is
       18-month-old baby. Now 32 and a widow, Dhaka is her   an outrageously expensive gamble. For every success story,
       only home: her parents lost everything to river erosion. She   there are cautionary tales of exploitation.
       shares a single room with her two children in the generically
       named “boat ghat” slum and makes a living cooking and   The UN Population Division estimates the Bangladeshi
       cleaning for wealthier families.                     diaspora at 7.2 million, which is almost certainly an
                                                            understatement. India alone claims to have 20 million
       City life has its upsides: Begum loves the cinema, naming her   Bangladeshis living within its borders, most of them illegally,
       elder son after film star Shakib Khan. An electric light and   although that could equally be an exaggeration.
       ceiling fan is included in the 1,800 taka ($22) monthly rent.
       But her flimsy shack lets mosquitoes in and she is suffering   Awareness of climate migration is well established at an
       from the chikungunya virus – a disease that causes severe   international level. “As regions become unliveable, more and
       joint pain.                                          more people will be forced to move from degraded lands
                                                            to cities and to other nations,” said UN secretary-general
       Her neighbour Mohamed Miraz, also from Bhola, came to   Antonio Guterres in a speech on climate change.
       Dhaka after one too many fishing nets came up empty. If
       he can save enough, he will go back and buy land. A single   Plans to deal with it are embryonic, however. A task force on
       acre costs as much as he earns in a thousand days pulling a   displacement under the auspices of UN climate talks had its
       rickshaw. The struggle to escape poverty is relentless.  first meeting in May. Its work plan grapples with patchy data
       The population of Dhaka has roughly doubled in 20 years   and institutional clashes.
       to 19 million, its rapid growth not matched by its planners.

                                                    Millions of Bangladeshis are living in India, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Middle East.
                                                    The precise number is hard to count because many travelled illegally. Data is from
                                                    various sources and may not be comprehensive.
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