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Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 17:39 GMT
Bangladesh boat diary: The launch
All this month the BBC World Service is travelling along the rivers of Bangladesh as part of a major project to track and debate climate change.

Journalist Ben Sutherland is among those on board the vessel, the MV Aboshor.


Officially entitled Nodi Pothe Bangladesh - Bangladesh By The River - this is one of the most ambitious projects the BBC World Service has undertaken.

Over the course of the month, staff from 17 different World Service language services will visit the MV Aboshar, and each Friday and Saturday a total of 48 people will cram onto the small boat.

MV Aboshar boat

Before beginning my two weeks on the boat, I had previously spent a couple of days in Dhaka, a city where graphic colour mixes with graphic poverty.

In the centre, the streets are intense, crowded, and oddly full of goats, which mill around outside dilapidated shopping malls.

Further out are the slum areas, where many of the approximately three million residents are former landowners and farmers who have lost everything in the environmental cataclysms that have afflicted the country down the years.

Most significant was the cyclone-triggered tidal wave of 1970, an event so severe - around a million people died - that the government's inadequate response heightened differences between East Pakistan from West Pakistan and helped lead to Bangladeshi independence in 1971.

It is Bangladesh's susceptibility to extreme weather events like this that potentially puts its people on the front line if the worst predictions about climate change come true.

And it is these people that we will be meeting over the next month, investigating how they might be affected and whether climate change is even seen as an issue amid more pressing problems, such as hunger and disease.


The launch began with a press conference on board the boat, decked out most smartly in proud BBC World Service blue; there is even a BBC flag on the radio mast.

From the top deck I watched the local Bangladeshi journalists arrive, escorted across in a powerboat, cameras already on the go.

Sabir Mustafa and Nazes Afroz
Why are you coming and scaremongering?
Bangladeshi journalist

Much of the discussion focused around the UN-backed Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which recently won the Nobel Prize and whose latest report will be released during our journey.

Two IPCC members - Dr Saleem ul-Haq and Dr Atiq Rahman - will themselves join the boat at different stages of the journey.

The questions were mostly positive - until the last one.

"Why are you coming and scaremongering?" a journalist asked. "Why do you want to present Bangladesh in a negative light?"

Does he have a point? Perhaps in the next four weeks you can judge for yourself.


Meanwhile, all around the boats in the background, all sorts of everyday Bangladeshi life went on.

On one nearby vessel a man took a shower by dipping a bucket into the river, hauling it up, and pouring it over his head. Brightly-painted barges chugged by, their bows so low in the water they looked certain to sink, their crew waving and shouting to us. On the riverbank - a well-known spot for local lovers - a couple kissed under a tree.

Wrecked boat
The deserted wrecks on the riverbank are strangely spectacular
The press conference was with Sabir Mustafa, head of the Bengali Service, and Nazes Afroz, executive editor for the World Service's Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile the press were then taken to a lunch on the permanently moored Mary Anderson. Initially built as a state yacht for the governor of Bengal, Sir John Anderson, back in 1933, it was converted into a "floating restaurant" in 1978 - and probably had not seen a paintbrush since.

Also munching away were the armed guards who will protect the MV Aboshar along the journey. The risk of attack from pirates is slight, but it is real.

Around four o'clock, we re-boarded the MV Aboshar and it lurched slowly away and into the middle of the river.

It has all the latest technology, allowing BBC online, radio and TV journalists to file live from the vessel.

An hour or so later, we were treated to a glorious sight as the sun set over the brick kilns and derelict hulks of old ships that line this part of the Padma river, an eventual tributary of the mighty Ganges.

The boat will now head towards Chandpur, a famous trading place now seriously threatened by erosion of the river bank - and which is increasingly seeing flooding sweep into the riverside villages.


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