[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
Resilience as the waters rise
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Sirajganj

One thing Bangladeshis cannot be accused of is making a drama out of a crisis.

Take the town of Sirajganj, some 200km (124 miles) north of Dhaka and one of the areas worst affected by the flooding.

For the last few days the town has been under water.

In almost every street, water is waist-deep or higher after the muddy brown Jamuna River bursts its banks.

A man rows a boatful of people along a flooded street
Main streets have become waterways

And yet, in many ways, life goes on as normal - families can be seen enjoying a stroll, or rather a wade, down what used to be the main street.

Rickshaw owners are doing a roaring trade.

Their three-wheeled taxi-cycles are just high enough to prevent a passenger from getting wet, as long as he or she remembers to crouch high up on the back of the seat.


Even some shops remain open with the proprietors squatting on their counters as their customers paddle past on makeshift bamboo rafts.

Bangladesh is used to floods and its people are used to coping but this year the floods are higher than average.

A young boy whose family abandoned his home sits by the riverbank
Rising water levels have robbed families of their homes

The heavy monsoon rainfall over Nepal and north-east India is working its way through this river delta country, swelling the rivers and forcing more people from their homes.

But, just because people do their best to cope, does not mean they do not suffer real hardship because as the water swallows their land so it also takes their livelihoods.

Musammat Monwara Khatum, for example, has seven children.

The family's crops are waterlogged and she has already collected her emergency aid allowance - 5kg of rice and a few biscuits.

Monwara does not know how long this meagre supply will have to last, and she fears they will soon go hungry.

"This flood has affected everything," she tells me. "The water is causing my house to fall down, and we're unable to find any dry ground to cook on.

Monsoon winds blow north-easterly for one half of the year, and from the south-west for the other half
South-westerly winds bring the heavy rains from June to Sept
Winds arrive in southern India six weeks before the north west
Annual rainfall varies considerably

"No-one can work, and we can't move from one place to another."

Tens of thousands of families are now sleeping in hundreds of emergency shelters which are often simply the upper floors of government offices.

There is a real risk of waterborne disease so in some areas the authorities are providing clean drinking water.

In Sirajganj, though, officials say they lack the boats to reach everyone in need.

So they too are having to make their own water travel arrangements, lashing together banana trees before floating off to distribute aid.

Yet, despite the severity of this year's monsoon, Bangladesh has seen worse floods.

In terms of the numbers of people affected, and the numbers of lives lost, this situation is not yet as serious as it was in 2004.

That year more than 700 people were killed and millions fled their homes.


But more could be done to prevent such disasters: Sirajgang has a flood defence embankment, but it has been broken in three places for more than a year.

A mother hold her child above the floodwaters in Bangladesh
Bangladeshis live under the shadow of frequent flooding

A bit of political will and some capital investment could have saved many people from the worst of the water.

Both have been all too often in short supply in one of the poorest, and most corrupt, countries on the planet.

The main road into Sirajganj runs along a raised embankment but the narrow strips of grass on either side are now home to dozens of people escaping the waters below.

They carry bits of their old houses with them, bamboo poles, iron sheets, and rebuild as best they can.

With a bit of prompting, some people will ask why the authorities have not done more to help, more quickly.

But, for many, flooding is simply a fact of life. And most are simply too busy trying to survive.

Monwara has given her bed, one of the only raised areas in her home still above water level, to her goats.

If the water stays for much longer she tells me she will have to take out a loan to feed her family.

The water will almost certainly come again next year, but she tells me she will be okay.

"Allah has given us mouths, so He will give us food," she says.

What is the South Asia monsoon?
03 Aug 07 |  South Asia
South Asia considers flood lessons
03 Aug 07 |  South Asia
S Asia floods: Worst-hit areas
03 Aug 07 |  South Asia
In pictures: Floods in South Asia
02 Aug 07 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Bangladesh
05 Jun 07 |  Country profiles


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific