Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dhaka visit - protests

I'm currently in Dhaka, Bangladesh - my first deployment since I've left the BBC and Taiwan. I'm now working with Oxfam as a globally-travelling press officer.

I'm in Bangladesh to try to generate more media coverage for Oxfam's work - with some of the focus on climate change issues.

In the last few years, low-lying Bangladesh, already prone to cyclones and other weather-disasters, has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate related problems. Changing conditions have meant weather-related disasters have become less predictable and more difficult to manage. A lack of information and resources makes it harder for the poorest communities to prepare or respond to increased hazards.

Scientists have predicted that Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

At the end of my first week here, I saw my first Bangladesh protest.

These people were asking for government help in Jessore and Shatkira districts in south-western Bangladesh.

Around 161,000 were affected by the flooding which hit the region in late September.

Aid groups are concerned that thousands could be at risk with many families living in temporary, makeshift shelters, because of lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

While Bangladesh is frequently affected by cyclones and storms, south-western Bangladesh has not traditionally experienced heavy flooding. But that changed in 2004 and annual flooding has left hundreds of thousands of hectares of land under water for up to six months a year. The water level this year is much higher than in previous years – a situation linked to rising sea and coastal levels.

One reason for the heavy flooding has been the silting of local rivers and the disruption of their normal flows and poorly maintained embankments built decades ago to assist flood management.
The recent floods have damaged rice crops and washed away shrimp farms in affected areas. Flood water levels are more than two feet higher than in previous years and local communities said they would not be able to cultivate any crops in the coming season, making families even more vulnerable.

Humanitarian groups, who are closely monitoring the situation, have called such cases of localised flooding “silent disasters”. They are not classified national crises and government efforts have been limited. Aid groups believe a joint advocacy strategy is essential to find a longer-term solution to mitigating similar crises in the future

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