Bangladesh is a country where water is in ample supply. There is so much of it. Sometimes too much. The World Health Organisation estimates that while 97% of Bangladeshis have access to water, only 40% have proper sanitation. In addition to this scientists predict that 18 million people will be displaced by rising seas levels in Bangladesh in the next 25 years. Flooding is an annual reality for millions on a scale that we cannot even comprehend in the UK.
I was in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the September 22nd South Asian flash flooding which affected nearly 20 million people across the region. It is easy to hear giant numbers and feel sympathy for people suffering but we can never really identify or understand the extent of the devastation that it causes to people’s lives.
I came face to face with this reality in one encounter with one woman.
We were visiting a village in Northern Bangladesh where the majority of the houses had crumbled under the torrent of 8ft flood waters. Amongst the crowd of people clambering to tell us their stories I noticed a woman. She was wearing a stunning red saree and had beautiful soft features, but there was something vacant about her. She looked empty. Her face captivated and haunted me.
Having heard her story, I am still filled with anguish at the memory of the face of this beautiful young woman.
The floods came in the middle of the night just a fortnight earlier when no-one was expecting them. This village had no access to early warning systems or had any emergency evacuation plans in place. They were caught off-guard and were unprepared for the devastation that was about to take place.
Houses started succumbing to the unrelenting water, including the house of the woman.
She and her four month old baby were woken by the confusion and in a panic the woman grabbed her precious daughter, held her tightly in her arm and with her other attempted to protect them both from the debris of her falling house.
This devoted young mother was not strong enough against the onslaught of water and her beloved and only child slipped from her arms and drowned in the flood water, only to be discovered nearby in the rubble two days later once the water had subsided.
Water is often described as a life force. Something that brings and refreshes life. But water also takes life, destroys it.
The reality of climate change means tragedies like this one are becoming more common. Head over to Rhythms.org to look at ways you can reduce your environmental impact.