Why does Mumbai always have problems with waterlogging

Bangladesh: Before the great flood

There is no place of rest in this country. Not a lonely spot, not a country road on which no one would be seen. And certainly not in the city. Anyone who wanders through Dhaka in the mist of the early morning must be careful not to stumble over one of the many sleeping children, over the homeless people who have made temporary sleeping places on every footpath, every green strip and every park. Then later the steaming streets and alleys fill with a crowd. All 15 million inhabitants of the capital seem to be on the move. Most of them will soon be hopelessly stuck in the hustle and bustle of traffic. Beggars and greengrocers make their way through the noisy hustle and bustle. Popcorn sellers, rickshaw drivers and hawkers are thrown through the crowds like droplets in a huge flash flood.

In front of the city there is endless, damp alluvial land, interrupted by lush green strips, everything flat as a board. And people as far as the eye can see: Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. More people live in an area only twice the size of Bavaria than in huge Russia. It's simple math: Among the 162 million people in Bangladesh, according to the World Bank, it is practically impossible to be alone.

What will it look like here in 2050? The number of inhabitants will have grown to 220 million despite falling birth rates. But much of today's area will be under water. As a result of global climate change, sea levels could rise by more than a meter in this century. Ten to 30 million Bangladeshis on the south coast of the country would then lose their homes and be forced to move even closer together. Or to leave the country as climate refugees.

The escape from floodplains is a problem worldwide. The number of refugees could swell to 250 million by the middle of the century. "We're talking about the greatest mass migration in human history," says Major General Muniruzzaman, a retired agile officer who heads the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Dhaka. And Bangladesh? "In the year 2050 millions of homeless people will crush our country, they will overwhelm our government and our institutions and break our borders." Muniruzzaman cites a study by the National Defense University in Washington D.C. It is a kind of conflict prognosis, the authors of which have worked out in detail the geopolitical chaos that threatens as a result of such a migration of peoples in South Asia: neighboring India would be the target of millions of refugees, epidemics and religious conflicts would break out. Food and clean water would become scarce, and tensions between the warring nuclear powers India and Pakistan would intensify.

The brief history of Bangladesh is a history of disasters. War, famine and epidemics have ravaged the country since independence in 1971. Hurricanes, floods, military coups and political assassinations. In addition, there is oppressive poverty. Even without the scenario of a flood of vast areas of land, there are not many at the international level who hold out the prospect of a bright future for Bangladesh.

The residents themselves think differently. They hardly seem to take notice of the dire forecasts. On the contrary: it is precisely in the trials of the past that they recognize the cause of powerful hope. Indeed, tortured Bangladesh is a country where climate change is seen primarily as a practical problem. As one that can be survived. All conceivable solutions that can be implemented with little effort are tested.

Support comes from the industrialized countries, which with their energy consumption bear a large part of the responsibility for global warming and thus for the rise in sea levels. A long list of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helps with the implementation - and the fact that the innovations show success is due not least to a characteristic that the country is now really richly blessed with: the bravery of its people. So it could be that at some point the world will no longer pity Bangladesh, but see it as a country from which one can learn.

A good third of all people in the world live less than 100 kilometers from a coast. Many of the largest cities are by the sea, including Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai, and New York. Climate change threatens them with catastrophic flooding. Two cities in Bangladesh are particularly at risk: Dhaka (around 15 million inhabitants in the region) and Chittagong (3.7 million). Both are in the delta of the Ganges. It may be that sediment deposits even build up new coastal land in some places and thus compensate for the rise in sea levels. But other areas will just go under.

On May 25, 2009, the residents of Munshiganj on the southwest coast got a taste of what a rise in sea level means. The hurricane “Aila” raged off the coast; he unleashed a storm surge that hurtled toward the coast. Unsuspecting, the villagers were still working on their rice fields or mending their nets. Shortly after ten o'clock, the fisherman Nasir Uddin noticed that the tide in the river near the sea was rising unusually quickly. He looked around and saw a wall of brown water pouring over one of the two-meter-high clay dykes. Seconds later, the water streamed into his house, tearing down the walls, and flooding everything in it. The fisherman's three little daughters jumped on the kitchen table, they screamed as the cold salt water swirled around their ankles and then around their knees. "I was sure we would die," says Uddin today. Months have passed. He stands in the calf-deep mud next to a pond in which water shimmers the color of green antifreeze. "But Allah had other plans."

An empty fishing boat was washed by. Uddin grabbed hold of and put his daughters inside. The boat overturned, the family was tossed back and forth by the waves, but everyone clung on - and stayed alive. Hundreds of others drowned on the southwest coast and thousands were left homeless. Uddin and his neighbors in Munshiganj decided to rebuild their houses. Many others gave up then. They packed their remaining belongings and moved into the interior of the country to start a new life in cities like Khulna or Dhaka.

Thousands of people arrive here every day, fleeing the floods of the rivers in the north and the hurricanes in the south. It's a familiar picture in Dhaka, with many ending up in the densely populated slum of Korail. The city is overwhelmed. Hundreds of thousands have already ended up here. Their living conditions are a disaster. But precisely because Bangladesh has such serious problems, it has long served as a kind of laboratory for innovative solutions in developing countries. The country has risen again after every crisis, and the people have proven that they have much greater reserves than skeptics would have ever suspected.

BRAC, the largest non-profit organization in the developing world, is based in Dhaka. It serves as a prime example of how health care and other services can be maintained by an army of local workers. The concept of microloans was also developed here, with which Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and his Grameen Bank opened up new opportunities for the people of the country, even without the usual collateral.

Even family planning became a success story. The birth rate fell from 6.6 children per woman in 1977 to 2.4 today. At the same time, child mortality has been reduced from 100 deaths per 1,000 births since 1990 to 47. And while falling birth rates are usually associated with increasing prosperity, with the need of parents to give a smaller number of children a better start in life - in Bangladesh, well-organized education was enough to reduce the birth rate.

“It was difficult in the beginning,” reports Begum Rokeya. As a member of the State Health Service in the Satkhira District, she has visited thousands of young couples to convince them of family planning. "We are a very conservative country, and the men put pressure on their wives to have as many children as possible." It was only when the families realized that vaccination significantly increased their children's chances of survival that they were ready to rethink. And most of them also liked the idea of ​​not having to feed so many hungry mouths.
At the same time, in collaboration with dozens of NGOs, the country promoted vocational training specifically for girls; since 1995 the proportion of employed women has doubled. Many of them find work in the textile industry, whose exports are an important source of income for the economy.

In Dhaka, however, such success is being undermined by ubiquitous poverty and the influx of land. Organizations like BRAC take care of things and look for solutions, but it is clear to the helpers: Working in this city is like trying to scoop out the sea with a teaspoon. “We want to prevent people from coming to Dhaka at all,” says Babar Kabir, who oversees the programs for climate change and disaster management. “So we are working to give them opportunities to make a living in their villages. But storms like "Aila" destroy their livelihoods. »

Ibrahim Khalilullah no longer knows how often he has moved. «30 times? 40 times? Probably more often, but does that matter? " Somehow, in all the turmoil, he and his wife raised seven children. The gray-haired man shows his satisfaction. He proudly adds that they "never missed a meal".

Khalilullah lives on the Chars. He is one of hundreds of thousands who have to adapt their lives to the ever-changing islands in the floodplain of the three great rivers of Bangladesh - Padma, Jamuna and Meghna. These characters, often just small patches of earth in the river, appear and disappear with the tides, the seasons, the phases of the moon, the rain and the currents of the rivers. If a resident goes by boat to visit a friend, the island may no longer exist.

Instead, the friend lives on another island that emerged from the water a few kilometers downstream. There he built a new house within a day and laid out a garden by evening. That's how it works on the characters. Building a house here, planting vegetables, feeding a family - a greater challenge in terms of serenity and adaptability is hardly imaginable. Those who live on the Chars are probably one of the toughest and toughest people in the world.

There are of course tricks, Khalilullah reveals. For example, he builds his house from parts that can be taken apart, transported and put back together in a few hours. He always looks for a base for it, at least two meters high. He uses corrugated iron for the walls and thatch for the roof. And the family's suitcases stay nicely stacked next to the bed. Sometimes they need to be repacked very quickly.
He also has documents that already confirmed his father's right to settle on newly emerging islands. The complex system of laws and customs is designed to prevent migrants from the south from settling illegally on the Chars en masse. But there is still a secret, says Khalilullah: Just don't think too much. «We are all under pressure, but that is no cause for tormenting thoughts. We have no choice but to move from place to place. We'll work this land for as long as we can and then the river will wash it away. No matter how worried we are, it always has been, and it will stay that way. "

Even in good times, life is in constant danger. And times are far from good. Not only the coasts are threatened, but also places inland. Khalilullah's island, for example. Climate change could disrupt the natural cycles of precipitation, monsoons or snowfall on the Tibetan plateau. From there, the rivers that wind through the delta are fed.

The danger has its good side: in the constant face of flooding and devastating storms, the country's residents have had ample opportunity to adjust to what has - and will change - with climate change. For decades, for example, they have been developing rice varieties with higher salt resistance and building dikes to protect low-lying farms. In fact, the country has doubled its rice production since the early 1970s. And the frequent hurricanes made it necessary to build protective structures and develop early warning systems against natural disasters. More recently, floating schools, hospitals, and libraries have been set up and operate throughout the monsoon season.

I would like to tell you something about the Bangladeshis, "says political scientist Zakir Kibria, an expert on policy analysis at Uttaran, an organization that fights for environmental justice and against poverty." We may be poor and at first glance not very organized, but we are are not victims. And when the going gets tough, here people do what they always have: find a way to adapt and survive. "

"We are masters in resisting the climate," says Muhammad Hayat Ali. The farmer lives east of Satkhira on the river, about 50 kilometers from the coast. Safe? Still close enough for the threat of tidal waves and the inexorably rising sea level "This land used to be very fertile," says Ali. There were rice fields everywhere. Now the weather has changed: the summers are longer and hotter than before, the rain doesn't come when it should, and the water out of the ground is too salty to grow rice. " The farmer has switched to shrimp farming. And many do the same: create ponds, plant a few vegetables on the shore and live on shrimps or crabs that wholesalers deliver to Dhaka or abroad.

But adaptation measures can also backfire. All over the south of the country, villages and fields are protected by a network of dykes that the state had built in the 1960s with the support of Dutch engineers. Sometimes the rivers wash over the dikes and the fields fill up like soup bowls. When the tide recedes, the water is trapped. The waterlogged floors remain unusable for a long time. In Satkhira it was once again the farmers who knew how to help - and who showed a way into the future. The story goes back years. In order to dry out a field that had fallen fallow due to waterlogging, they cut a breach in the dike. Their ancestors had done exactly the same, regularly breaking through the dikes and directing the river water onto their fields. It rose and fell with the tide, sediment sloshed in and filled the land.

But in the meantime, breaking the dike was illegal. The farmers were charged - but then something unexpected happened: the field, which had been left open, was flooded with tons of sediment from the river. After all, it was about three feet higher than before. Good soil. The river channel deepened, and the fishermen had reason to be happy too: They started catching fish again.

A state commission of inquiry examined the desperate peasants' solution and recommended that other fields be dealt with in the same way. The villagers were rehabilitated, even celebrated as heroes. And the many hectares of fields bring a good rice harvest. "Rivers are our lifelines," explains political scientist Zakir Kibria as he climbs over a dike. "Our ancestors knew that. The opening of the fields connects everything with one another. This raises the ground and compensates for the rising sea level. This secures a livelihood and enables many different plants to be grown. Above all, this course ensures that not thousands of Give up farmers and fishermen and move to Dhaka. "

But every adjustment must remain piecemeal, a temporary solution. All the successes in birth control do not change the fact that the population of Bangladesh will continue to grow. Forecasts speak of more than 250 million by the end of the century. And parts of the land will continue to disappear in the water. Where will people live? How will they make a living? Many are already working abroad, in Western countries, in Saudi Arabia, in the Emirates, and many also in India, where millions of people fled to during the war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.

In the decades that followed, millions more moved to the neighboring country. Social unrest and conflicts were the result.Today India seems determined to strengthen its border in order to seal itself off against the threat of a great migration. A 4,000-kilometer security fence is under construction and the border guards are shooting at gunpoint. Among their victims were also young people who smuggled cattle from India across the border to help their destitute families make ends meet. In the neighboring Hindu country, the animals are considered sacred, in Muslim Bangladesh they cost up to 30 euros each. "If ten or more million climate refugees really storm the Indian border," says peace researcher Muniruzzaman, "then these trigger-happy Indian border guards will soon run out of ammunition." India and the industrialized countries should liberalize their immigration policies, he advises. That would be wiser. Because all over Bangladesh, young people are tinkering with plans to leave the country - and it is primarily those who are intelligent, ambitious and well educated.

Mohammed Mabud sees this as an opportunity for everyone involved. Investing in training, believes the President of the Organization to Combat Poverty, does not only bring specialists to one's own country. Well-trained workers would also be more interesting as immigrants for other countries than needy and desperate refugees. And their own economy could also benefit: 11 percent of the gross domestic product already comes from remittances from emigrants. "If people can go abroad to work there, then many will stay there," he says. The population of Bangladesh could be reduced by eight to 20 million people before the consequences of climate change hit with full severity.

For the time being, however, the government of the country seems to see the threatening environmental problems as an argument for soliciting aid from the industrialized countries for their own development. Since independence, this has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in dollars. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the industrialized countries pledged to support the poor countries on the front line of climate change with $ 100 billion a year by 2020.

And many Bangladeshis are of the opinion that their proportion should be particularly large according to the particular threat. "Climate change has become a kind of business," admits Abu Mostafa Kamal Uddin. "Big sums of money are involved and a lot of advisors are involved." Basically, however, the former manager of the state commission on climate change defends the system: "During the financial crisis billions were mobilized to save the world's banks. What is wrong with helping the poor in Bangladesh in one situation, others Emergence they weren't involved? "

Two years after the storm, Munshiganj is still not dry. Nasir Uddin and his neighbors fight to build a new life for themselves and not to be eaten by tigers who come to the village at night in search of easy prey from the mangrove forests of the neighboring Sundabarns. Dozens of residents in the area have been killed or wounded in recent years, and some have even been attacked in broad daylight. "It's bad here, but where should we go?" Says Uddin, examining the one and a half meter high plinth on which he wants to rebuild his house. An interest-free loan helps. And this time it should be wood instead of clay. Wood floats.

The rice fields around his house are full of brackish water. People hardly have an alternative to growing crabs and prawns. Uddin says the water is salty even in deep village wells. The residents of the region would have to collect rainwater and ask for drinking water from aid organizations. A truck then delivers it to a tank in the village and it is usually the young women who carry the water home in aluminum containers on their heads. "You should take a picture here and show it to the people in your country with their big cars," says Uddin's neighbor Samir Ranjan Gayen, a small bearded man who organizes the water distribution. "Tell them this is a taste of what south Florida will look like 40 years from now."

One cannot argue with the sea. The people of Munshiganj know that. It will come, sooner or later, to take this land for itself. Will millions of Bangladeshis then really pack their bags and flee en masse to India? They will likely adapt over and over again. And then, when the limit is reached, they will adjust a little more.

That's how they always kept it here.

(NG, issue 05/2011, page (s) 64)