June 23, 2008 / 1:34 PM / 11 years ago

Bangladesh's rivers giving and taking life away

SHARIATPUR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - The mighty rivers that give Bangladesh life are slowly taking it back again. With the monsoon rains yet to start, hundreds of families living along the banks of the Padma and other rivers are having to uproot themselves as the powerful waters erode their homes and land from almost under their feet.

Two labourers scavenge for building materials from a Muslim shrine under threat from erosion along the Padma River in Shariatpur June 23, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

In Shariatpur, about 240 km (145 miles) south of the capital, Dhaka, villagers were seen on Monday fleeing their homes on the banks of Padma, one of dozens of major rivers that meander through the country to the Bay of Bengal.

“No one can assure us of a safe living as the Padma often turns treacherous and can take away everything we have,” said villager Tara Miah.

Rivers that offer millions of Bangladeshis a living as fishermen and merchandise carriers also pose a great danger, especially during the monsoon season and the onrush of floodwaters from their source, upstream in India.

Thousands of villagers are forced each year to migrate to higher ground or overcrowded cities after losing their homes and farms to erosion or floodwaters. Government officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimate at least 10 million people have been displaced in the past decade.

WORSE IS YET TO COME

But worse may be yet to come.

Experts say a third of Bangladesh’s coastline could be flooded if the seas rise one meter in the next 50 years, creating an additional 20 million displaced Bangladeshis — about the population of Australia.

“It seems the erosion will not spare anyone this year,” said Humayun Kabir, Miah’s neighbor in Shariatpur.

Kabir has bee forced to move home twice in the last few years before finally taking shelter in a century-old Muslim shrine, which also has also become vulnerable to heavy erosion.

A part of shrine has already been devoured by the Padma and local residents said on Monday they feared the whole structure would be lost during this year’s monsoon.

The monsoon starts in Bangladesh in middle of June and lasts until the end of September, flooding large parts of the country almost every year and killing hundreds of people.

Villagers near the Padma said they sometimes couldn’t sleep at night as huge chunks of the banks fell into the river with giant splashes.

Officials with the Bangladesh Water Development Board said they had tried to tame flooded rivers by dumping stones and sandbags every year, but they proved mostly futile.

“The rivers’ fury is too strong to control. Often we just look helpless,” said one Shariatpur official, who asked not to be named.

Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by David Fox

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