Every year, the citizens of Sylhet district in northeast Bangladesh prepare for a monsoon season that typically runs between June and October. It is a period on which Bangladesh’s rice production relies, and during which crops can receive the nourishment they require. Yet, as a delta country with an intricate and dense system of rivers, Bangladesh is uniquely vulnerable to intense periods of flooding during this season, a fact that most Bangladeshis are acutely aware of. Annual preparations are put in place to offset the imminent risk of such floods, which have the potential to significantly impact the livelihoods of many citizens.
So far, 2022 has been catastrophic in this regard. Agencies describe this year’s flooding as the worst in over a century. Beginning in early May, torrential rain caused the river systems in Bangladesh to overflow. Entire regions were submerged. Official figures state that over one hundred people have died as a direct result of the ensuing floods. The number of those affected is much larger: the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announced that over seven million people need humanitarian assistance.
Dan, a Bengali-speaking British national with family members still living in Bangladesh, has been issuing calls for help across his social media profiles. Over three-quarters of his father’s side of the family still reside in the country. The floods, therefore, provoked tremendous concern, despite many of his relatives living in more elevated areas. Contact, due to the water damage, has been difficult. ‘The phone signal and internet are very patchy – they sometimes work, sometimes don’t. And people don’t have electricity for most of the day at the moment.’ Being so far away, he has felt ‘helpless’ and as though his ‘hands are tied.’
Humanitarian assistance is desperately needed. Though the flooding has recently begun to recede, its effects are still brutally felt by the Bangladeshi citizens. The devastation has left many people without essentials such as water, food and medicine. The destruction of thousands of homes, whole towns and cities, has given birth to a large-scale displacement crisis. Social media is replete with accounts of people forced to leave their totally submerged houses on boats, aimless in their search for a new place to live. Moreover, given the rapidity of the flooding, many people’s livestock also perished as people were forced to escape with haste.
Many are still stranded. However, infrastructure and lines of communications have suffered immensely. Organisations are desperately trying to deliver emergency supplies in the form of food and safe drinking water. The flood’s residual impact is likely to be long-lasting. Experts fear an ensuing proliferation in waterborne diseases: many victims have had to survive for abnormally long periods of time in the flood water. As such, aid is paramount in dealing with the flood’s aftermath. Yet, it is not obviously forthcoming to the requisite extent. The IFRC recently outlined the need for almost eight million dollars in donations and support so that another 300,000 citizens could benefit from desperately needed relief operations.
The problem, Dan claims, is a lack of eyes and ears in places such as Britain. He laments what he sees as minimal British reporting on the catastrophe: ‘it starts with the media to be honest with you … without people’s attention, situations can’t be resolved.’ Dan’s prescription is therefore a journalistic one: ‘get the word out.’ He has faith in the mobilising potential of the internet, the power of news agencies and the concurrent spread of masses of information. ‘That’s what social media and the media in general is for. You can see anything from anywhere at any time. It is not always about pulling on the heart strings, but simply about making people aware and making their own minds up. In situations such as these, there is no need to revert to persuasive methods or manipulation. The presentation of the facts will suffice.’
Dan’s claims are especially pertinent given various climate scientists’ warnings about Bangladesh’s subsequent prospects. Forecasts that predict future increases in rainfall serve as stark reminders of the permanence of Bangladesh’s vulnerability to extreme weather oscillations. Efforts will be needed to combat this that receive funding in the form of aid. Whether such aid supplements adaptation, mitigation, or disaster-relief efforts such as in the recent case, the attention of those with the requisite means to supply it is essential.
For Dan, Bangladesh’s well-being is contingent on this attention. But he does not resign to pessimism. On the contrary, he is hopeful about the way that empathy will be naturally generated given comprehensive documentation of similar crises. Asked if people would be receptive should they only gain awareness of disasters, he replies, ‘One hundred percent. There’s a huge, huge number of people out there who will help if they only know that help is required. It’s not about people not caring. It’s about people being unaware. People have hearts.’
It is in this way that charities such The People’s Foundation, an organisation particularly close to Dan given his familial ties to one of its co-founders, can receive the support it needs. Indeed, The People’s Foundation does not restrict its operations to Bangladesh, instead adopting a more global scope in its recognition of people in need. It also operates in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. On this front, Dan agrees. For him, the problem of generating attention is not confined to the current crisis: ‘similar situations are occurring globally, day in day out, minute by minute. We don’t hear about it, we don’t know about it.’ All around the world, lives depend on the adequate reporting of catastrophes analogous to the current one in Bangladesh.
Link to the People’s Foundation: https://www.peoplesfoundation.org.uk/
Dan is 25 years old, he was born in Manchester, but has been living in Devon for the last 20 years. He helps his parents run their family business and his hobbies and interests include sports such as football and boxing. Almost all of his mums side of the family have emigrated to the UK over the past 50 years, whereas although some are here and in the US, the vast majority of his dad’s side are living in Bangladesh. With many years of overseas support, his relatives are fairly well established in terms of preparation for flooding for example, but they are part of a lucky minority. Friends, family friends, neighbours and of course millions of others are struggling as we speak.