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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 17:12 GMT
Bangladesh boat diary: Northward bound
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 and other issues.

The BBC's Alastair Lawson has now replaced Ben Sutherland on board the vessel, the MV Aboshar.


As we prepare to head north from the Sundarbans towards central Bangladesh, some final thoughts as we depart from the world's largest mangrove forest.

Woman by river bank
Bangladeshis are unsure about water safety

Who are the beleaguered subsistence farmers of this country supposed to believe as they struggle to eke out a living?

If they trust the climate change experts, they will want to flee because the sea in the nearby Bay of Bengal needs to rise by only a few centimetres for up to 20 million people to be displaced.

If they take the word of some water experts, naturally occurring arsenic in tube well water threatens to poison an equally large number of people.

And if they take the advice of agriculturalists, they should no longer use surface water for drinking purposes because it has been heavily contaminated by a combination of fertiliser residue and animal and human waste.

While Western scientists argue which of these apocalyptic outcomes poses the greatest danger, local farmers - in most cases only earning about $1 a day - could easily be forgiven for being more than a trifle puzzled.


It's difficult to do anything other than admire Bangladeshis. Among the poorest people of the world, they are amazingly resourceful and cheerful.

Shankar the cook

Take Shankar - our cook on board the BBC boat, the MV Aboshar. He works below decks in hot and stultifying conditions for long hours preparing and cooking food for around 20 BBC journalists.

He is able to produce the most delicious dishes even though his kitchen can hardly be described as state of the art.

Bangladeshis may not have much money, but their cheerful outlook on life - as reflected by Shankar and his staff - is everywhere to be seen.

As we meander our way from the Sundarbans towards Barisal, passing numerous boats on the way, nearly everyone has a wave and a smile.

The king of Bhutan once talked about Gross National Happiness being more important than Gross Domestic Product as an indicator of a country's wellbeing. By that yardstick, Bangladesh has much going for it.


So what do ordinary Bangladeshis who we meet while winding our way northwards think about the military-backed caretaker government?

Farmer with pumpkin
Many farmers struggle to earn a living

In part it depends on who you talk to.

Many shopkeepers, store owners and ordinary people seem to be concerned with only one thing: the rising price of essential goods.

The government may have been successful in lowering corruption, they argue, but it has miserably failed to increase the standard of living.

Others feel a deep sense of unease over the suspension of democracy. There's a real fear among many people that clashes on the streets - similar to those witnessed on the streets of Dhaka a few months ago - could take place once again.

The third category remain broadly supportive of the government. It has made genuine efforts to rid the country of corrupt politicians once and for all, they argue.

In their view, the country needs a thorough spring clean and a new start.

But it is now approaching winter, and people's patience may be wearing a little thin for that line or argument.

12 November - TAGORE LOVERS

Much is made of how bitterly polarised and divided this country is. And that is true when it comes to politics.

But when it comes to culture and the arts, the opposite is the case.

As we have discovered on our travels, the great authors and poets, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, remain universally revered to an extent that few politicians could ever dream of.

If you want to befriend a Bangladeshi, recite a few lines of Tagore's poem, The Year 1,400. I can almost guarantee that you will win them over.


Bangladesh boat diary: River erosion
01 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh boat diary: the launch
29 Oct 07 |  South Asia


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