Bangladeshis brace for return of monsoon and reveal true toll of last year’s record rainfall
2023’s seasonal rains have yet to hit this vulnerable, low-lying country but locals and the world can already predict what they will bring.
People living in the north of Bangladesh have revealed the true societal and spiritual toll of the raging floods caused by record rainfall in May 2022, as they brace for the return of monsoon season and the potential for further destruction.
New research from IIED and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) shows that loss and damage from this climate-driven disaster extended far beyond the economic, impacting even on residents’ religious practices.
Villagers in three locations said their children had missed months of school after classrooms, temples and homes were washed away; many people lost sleep worrying about how they would survive and fell prey to depression; crop fields were wiped out and livestock killed; and water-borne diseases spread rapidly, adding to the death toll which reached into the hundreds.
Douwe van Schie, a visiting researcher at ICCCAD, said: “Our conversations with people in northern Bangladesh show how some of the most devastating losses – anxiety-induced sleepless nights, missed months of school, cancelled festivals – are hard to define in monetary terms yet very real and damaging for these communities.”
In all, some nine million people were reportedly left stranded by the flooding across northern Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh’s Sylhet, Sunamhanj and Netrokona districts were most severely affected by flooding from the Barak, Kushiyara and Someshwari rivers. The low-lying country is increasingly at risk from more extreme weather as climate change intensifies.
Researchers visited three areas in Durgapur Upazilla, Netrokona district in late 2022 and early 2023 to ask people about the losses and damage they had suffered as a result of the changing climate. Their findings are set out in 'Centring local values in assessing and addressing losses and damages'. Working from a set of local values defined by residents, they recorded how the changing climate was disrupting everyday life when it came to development, education, and physical health, religion, culture, family and mental health.
Negotiations continue about how to fill the coffers of a loss and damage fund that was created at the global climate negotiations in Egypt last November (COP27). It’s intended to help nations made vulnerable by climate change recover from disasters, but there’s much still to be clarified about exactly how it will work.
Ritu Bharadwaj, a principal researcher for IIED, said: “While residents in Netrokona are piecing their lives back together and finding ways to cope with these threats, loss and damage negotiators from rich countries are dragging their feet. Historically high-emission governments need to speed up their work, and take into account the sheer breadth and scale of the issue.”
Riverbank erosion caused the loss of a mosque and madrasa in Gaokandia Union. In the same area, a Hindu cremation site was washed away and a temple was waterlogged for several weeks, rendering it inaccessible. Hindus in Durgapur could not reach their temple for a week after the flood. In 2020, riverbank erosion caused the loss of a Banyan tree and a Hindu temple in Kullagora. After losing the latter, the Hindu community "grieved for more than a month" and they have been unable to conduct a Puja ritual at a local temple since.
One villager detailed how a Madrasa, where around 300 students take religious education, was damaged by the floods and all forms of teaching stopped for more than two months. “I first moved my books and stationery to a safe place when the flood happened,” one student said. “I love studying, and if the books were destroyed, it would be too expensive to buy them again.”
One local resident said that after the floods hit, “we struggled a lot with food, medicine, accommodation, toilets and drinking water. Tears rolled down for 24 hours of days and nights”. Another stated she was “in shock for 15 days and could not talk properly”. Months later, she still cannot sleep well and is forgetful, while a further interviewee revealed they were “in great fear and could not sleep at night due to fear of snakes and insects biting” during the crisis.
Notes to editors
To get access to more photos that accompany this research, please get in touch with Sarah Grainger (email@example.com).