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A river that gives and takes

The risk of flooding in Rangpur, Bangladesh represents a big challenge for people’s lives in small-scale fishing communities. Even after the destruction from the monsoon season of 2019, people are still striving to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch.

Shahjalal Miah and his family live in the Rangpur district, which rests along a union of five major rivers in northern Bangladesh.  Calling a vast alluvial plain home means they have a great respect for how nature influences their daily lives, their economy and their future.

As much good as these waters bring, Shahjalal Miah and his family are also no strangers to the flooding waters and river erosion, which are ever present during the summer months. “In 2020, all our houses were washed away again by flood,” says Miah, who lives with his family on the Colkond Char, along the Tessta River in the Gangachara area of Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh. Each time it happens, Rangpur’s homes and livelihoods are threatened, putting many families at risk of losing everything they own.

Losing the roof over your head is a devastating ordeal and providing emergency shelter solutions are a top priority in the aftermath of a storm. As part of the emergency plan for the monsoon season in 2019, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) rushed to distribute short-term shelter, such as tents, to families affected by the flood.

Shahjalal Miah and his family were one of those beneficiaries. The tent he received helped him  survive when he had no other means of accommodation, as his house was swept away by the river. He also received livelihood training from BDRCS to help him get back on his feet.

Today, he has come a long way. He is living in his newly built house with his wife and grandsons and has been able to provide for his family despite the everyday struggles. In the back of his mind, Shahjahan Miah still fears for his grandchildren’s future and the risks they face every monsoon season.

50-year-old Shahjalal Miah stares at the Teesta River with his grandchild in one arm. Fishing is one of the primary sources of income in flood-prone areas like Colkond Char. He knows he is looking at his lifeline and the future of those he cares most about. His dream of providing for his grandson is reflected in the river waters.

The importance of the river to their existence is a lesson that Shahjalal Miah tries to pass on to the next generations as he watches his grandson, Azad, and his father Jahangir Alom. Residents in this area have had difficulty getting a good catch since the most recent cyclone in 2019. Fishermen can hardly get 100 Takas (USD $1) daily after keeping fish for the family.

Throwing their nets is no guarantee of a catch for people in this community. In this photo, Shahjalal’s father, Jahangir Alom, finds only a few small fish in his net.

Several members of the community also work as laborers and some others drive rickshaw vans, but finding other means of income is almost impossible in this region. However, every family has at least one fishing net and mostly get to catch small fishes on the riverside.

After the monsoon season of 2019, when Shahjalal and his family lost almost everything they own, they had no other choice but to rebuild from the ground up. Just like many of their neighbours, they were dependent on others’ assistance to survive the destruction.

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, the aid provided by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in  focused on providing safer shelter options, basic supplies, food and water for families that had no alternative.  As he sits with his wife in their new home, Shahjalal Miah recollects how important that little tent was. “In 2020, all our houses were washed away again by the flood. If I had not had the tent, I have no idea what would have happened to my family.”

Food prosperity in Shahjalal’s village is closely linked to the fluctuating climate and disaster-prone geography. At times, small amounts of rice, potatoes, oil, rice and peppers can be the only food families can afford. Job options are also very scarce in the region, leaving heads of households with limited options for income generation.

To provide better options for food and income, BDRCS supported families like Shahjalal’s with livelihood trainings. In this photo, Shahjalal maintains his vegetable garden that helps him keep his family fed. The garden also provides them an additional income source, as he also sells their vegetables in the local market.

Even through hardships, Shahjalal Miah smiles and tries to spend time with his grandchild. He constantly worries about his grandchildren’s future, but education opportunities in the area are very limited. “I want to send my grandchild to school and do best in life. But on this island, children hardly finish school” he says.

Adding to these struggles, the fear of upcoming disasters permanently remains for families in this community. “I think a lot about the future of our grandchildren. We face floods every year and everything washes away once they hit. We are fighting every day to survive.”


This story was produced and drafted by Rabbe Islam,
– a talented and committed storyteller from Bangladesh Red Crescent


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