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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 16:28 GMT
Bangladesh boat diary: Cyclone coming
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 is one of those on board the vessel, the MV Aboshar.


One of the most exciting things about travelling the length and breadth of Bangladesh by boat is the opportunity it gives BBC journalists to meet ordinary people.

A child in Daulatdia
Many children live nearby Daulatdia's railway lines

Take Abdul the rickshaw trolley driver. He earns less than one dollar a day delivering coconuts in the town of Mawa.

As in other parts of the country these days, riding a rickshaw in the town is not an easy job.

Abdul has to compete for road space against an increasing number of cars, trucks and motorcycles sometimes in stifling heat and sometimes in torrential rain but always wearing the same clothes. "It's not an easy way of making a living," he says.

Another person we meet in Mawa is Mohammed Alam, in charge of issuing birth certificates.

This is a job that involves extensive paperwork and extensive form-filling in triplicate. The paperwork has grown so voluminous in fact that he has to use the bed he shares with his wife to cope with it all.

The door to his house is always open during office hours for people to come and register their children - the inside looks like a busy doctor's surgery in Europe. "How can I and my servants do the cleaning with all these forms lying all the place?" his wife asks me.


A visit to the town of Daulatdia, where journalists from the BBC World Service programme, Health Check, meet local prostitutes in a brothel to find out about their living conditions.

On board the MV Aboshar

There are 1,600 women who work here. They see about 3,000 clients a day.

The women say that the brothel - which occupies a square at the end of a long alleyway - is "government licensed", even though prostitution is illegal in Bangladesh.

Awareness of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among the estimated 60,000 sex workers of Bangladesh is high. In Daulatdia, "peer education" classes take place in which older prostitutes teach younger women - with the help of graphic photographs - about the dangers of not using condoms.

One of the women told the BBC that she had been trafficked to the brothel and was now a bonded sex worker.

She was asked whether there was anything remotely positive about her life. "There's nothing good about living here, what good can there be in a place like this?"

Others say they cannot leave because they would be destitute and on the streets if they did so.

Health Check will be broadcast on the BBC World Service from 26 November.


The BBC's Waliur Rahman is one of the Bengali section's most experienced journalists. He is an excellent English speaker with impeccable contacts.

He is also one of the most unflappable characters I know. So when he looks a little concerned, the rest of us should start worrying.

Checking the weather forecast on his laptop on board the MV Aboshar, WR (as he is affectionately known) points out that that a category 10 cyclone - the biggest in the book - is advancing menacingly towards Bangladesh through the Bay of Bengal.

Project Manger James Sales shows us a satellite image of the storm looking like a vast white feather duster in the sea, sweeping away all that comes before it.

The towns of Khulna, Cox's Bazar and Mongla - the latter visited by the BBC last week - appeared directly to be in the firing line.

If the storm is even half as severe as appears on the map these towns are facing the natural equivalent of a Second World War artillery barrage.


I write this on the road as we head towards Mongla, which according to some press reports has been flattened by the cyclone. But until we actually get there and see for ourselves, it's impossible to say whether such reports are true.

I am particularly keen to follow up a story that has appeared in the Bengali press. It says that royal Bengal tigers took refuge from the storm in one village deep in the Sunderbans mangrove forest alongside local people.

Talk about facing the forces of nature - with a full-force cyclone on the one hand and terrifying wild animals on the other.


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


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