In southern Bangladesh the effects of global warming are already markedly noticeable. Flooding and whirlwinds are striking more frequently and saltwater continues to encroach further into the regions interior. This Christmas season, PE INTERNATIONAL is supporting the aid organization Bread for the World, in order to help those most affected adjust to their changing climate. In lieu of our annual printed Christmas letter, we are choosing to send you our greetings by email. This email reduces costs and preserves resources enabling us to donate all saved expenses to people who desperately need our help.
Kalabogi is a town in the southernmost part of Bangladesh just inland from the Bay of Bengal. There, water is an element of the people as sustenance and for livelihood. “In the last 15 years our situation has enormously deteriorated,” explains Shahagahan Ali Sarder. The number and severity of storms within the region have intensified. Rising sea levels have also allowed saltwater to penetrate into the freshwater rivers, many of which directly connect to irrigation systems of rice fields.
This, in conjunction with a drought recently depleting the amount of freshwater in rivers, catalysed the encroachment of ocean saltwater deep into the lands interior. Adding to the problem, their powerful neighbour India has constructed a large dam upstream on the Ganges blocking the inflow of freshwater. When sluice gates are eventually reopened, the dam will release record breaking amounts of water – due to increasing amounts of snow and ice thaw in the Himalayas - onto the land surrounding Kalabogi. “We are not responsible for all of these changes, yet we have the most to suffer from them,” states Shahagahan Ali Sarder.
Inhabitants are well informed
Astonishingly, the majority of Kalabogis citizens attend only a few years of school if any and many are illiterate. There are no newspapers and televisions are sparse. Despite these setbacks, the inhabitants are remarkably well informed. Starting a few months ago, they have been regularly visited by members of PRODIPAN, a partner organisation of “Brot für die Welt,” (Bread for the World). The organisation workers helps town members understand why their living environment has altered so dramatically and how to cope with the change. For instance, it’s dangerous to continue chopping down Mangrove forests because these they protect the town from whirlwinds. “By now many people stick to the government laws regulating environmental impacts,” clarifies Nilufea Akhter, a staff member of PRODIPAN.
Small loans help to establish income sources
Moreover, PRODIPAN has offered community members small loans. With these advances the citizens of Kalabogi have been able to establish alternative income sources to harvesting wood, growing rice or fishing. With the help of his small loan of about eighty euro (£72, $120 US), Shahagahan Ali Sarder started a small cultivation farm for freshwater shrimp. His success at breeding shrimp has been so profitable that he has repaid his loan and purchased three cows and four goats in the meantime. From the look of it, his enterprise will also be able to offer future financial prospects for his five children.
Creation of a network
In cooperation with other aid organisations, PRODIPAN has created a network of lobbyists fighting for the interests of those threatend by climate change. The hope is to bring their plight into larger public concern and thereby encourage the Bangladeshi government and other international organisations to finally support these hard hit people.
Text and Pictures with kind permission of "Bread for the World"
Text: Klaus Sieg, Thomas Knödl
Pictures: Jörg Böthling, Christof Krackhardt