Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Down and out in Dhaka

There is a video that a few friends in Bangladesh have already blogged or Facebooked about. It’s about climate change, and its devastating effects in Bangladesh, posted on the Guardian website. In much the same way that ‘aid fatigue’ happens when several big disasters hit at the world at the same time, I expect people might also becoming ‘climate change’-ed out already. While the statistics should be shocking and upsetting enough to spur some action, I think it’s in the details of personal stories that the impact of what’s happening can really hit home. It’s in the details that the power lies, as human stories connect more directly with our own humanity, far more than facts and figures can.

The short video details the lives of some of the many villagers from southern Bangladesh who, having lost everything to the various cyclones that have hit in recent years, have been forced to migrate to the sprawling chaos that is Dhaka to find work. Dhaka has grown from a population of 200,000 thirty years ago, to 15 million today. For those who haven’t witnessed Dhaka first hand, that should go some way in forming a mental image of the chaos, poverty and exploitation that lies waiting in Dhaka for those vulnerable, confused and without-a-choice victims of climate change (and of other failures of justice in Bangladesh).

Shots of children sitting on the street plying their new trade of shoe shining, while they describe how much they miss school, and the rivers, trees and open space of their village. Children playing cricket on mounds of rubbish in a slum, as a woman laments about the filth her family is forced to live in. Chaotic street scenes as a man explains the struggle to find peace of mind and calm within this all, as he worries for his children’s futures. It’s not that they left their homes in search of bright lights-big city, fame and fortune. Their homes are no longer standing. The ground on which their homes were built is under water. Their village no longer exists. It’s effectively been wiped off the map. Where else can they go?

All of this is clearly in sharp contrast to the moans of my life here. I do realise my daily moans pale in comparison, and certainly aren’t worth the pages I write them on, compared to the real problems of this country. It’s really hard to see a way out for Bangladesh sometimes, with so much stacked against it. It feels like there is just too much to overcome.

But as anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We have to at least try. What else can we do?

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