PEKERKHAL, Bangladesh — Rohima Begum was cooking breakfast last week when the floodwaters flowed into her tin-and-bamboo home and began racing across the floor.
Ms. Begum and her three children, along with her mother, made a quick escape on a small boat. The house and all their possessions were gone when they looked back.
“I’m having a tough time here, and I don’t know what comes next,” Ms. Begum, 28, said this week at a school building in Bangladesh’s landlocked northeast where hundreds of flood victims have been sheltering.
The occasional flood is a common occurrence in the Asia-Pacific region. The annual monsoon is an event that occurs between June and September that provides water to farmers for rice cultivation.
However, this year’s rains have been particularly intense, a stark reminder that climate change is causing more extreme weather. China’s recent flooding has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced. The state-run media reported this week that water levels have risen beyond flood levels in more then 100 rivers. Recent flooding in Bangladesh and northern India has flooded towns and train stations, killing dozens and dislocating millions.
According to government data, at most 68 Bangladeshis had died from flood-related causes as of Friday. This includes drowning, electrocutions, and landslides. More than 4,000 people have been affected by waterborne diseases. Crops have been destroyed.
The northeast, which produces the majority of rice for a country with approximately 170 million inhabitants, has been particularly hard hit. At least 384,000 people have been displaced in Ms. Begum’s home region of Sylhet, one of six in the northeast, said Mosharraf Hossain, the divisional commissioner.
“Every piece of real estate in Bangladesh is populated, and this entire area is underwater,” said Sheldon Yett, the United Nations Children’s Fund representative to the country, referring to the northeast.
As rescues continue to progress, there is a concern that waterborne disease will affect more people. Mr. Yett added that he had already noticed an increase in reports of diarrhea. Although the recent rains are beginning to taper off, he said that more rain is forecast for the next days and weeks.
“Protracted climate change emergencies don’t always get front-page coverage, and because of that they sometimes disappear beneath the waves,” he added. “In Bangladesh it’s figurative as well as literal.”
It is difficult to link climate change and a single flood event without extensive scientific analysis. Climate change, which has already been causing heavy rains in many storms and is becoming an increasingly important part, is also a crucial part of the mix. Warmer temperatures hold and release more water.
Global warming is responsible for the record-breaking rainfall that caused devastating floods in Belgium and Germany last summer. Scientists have confirmed this conclusion. Recent research in South Asia supports the theory of climate change disrupting the annual monsoon.
Because they are near the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, India and Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to climate change. In 2020, at least 25% of Bangladesh was submerged by torrential rainfalls. Extreme rainfall and landslides washed away an entire Rohingya refugee camp last year.
“Now, we are past the phase of asking if each of these extreme weather events is due to climate change,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. “The question has become obsolete and a frequent distraction from working toward climate solutions.”
Abdus Sattar, 70-year-old former mayor of a village, northeastern Bangladesh, has never been a climate scientist. He was able to put the recent floods into historical context.
“I’ve never seen a flood like this,” said Mr. Sattar, who was sheltering on Thursday in the same converted school building as Ms. Begum. “My father used to tell me many stories of their struggles, but he never told me about anything like this flood. It has ruined many of the villagers.”
Ms. Begum, her mother, and her three children, aged between 4 and 10, fled to Pekerkhal, where they found a schoolhouse. Her husband is currently in Saudi Arabia, searching for a job as a construction worker for the past six months.
The schoolhouse shelter is located in a submerged area that can only be reached by boat. It has one toilet for approximately 190 families. It has become even more crowded thanks to the rice bags that flood victims brought.
Ms. Begum arrived with no provisions as she had left her home in such an hurry. She said that her family was forced to drink floodwater at first. They did not eat for 2 days, until another family shared their meal.
Ms. Begum explained that they now have a small amount of rice, sugar, bottled water, and other aid workers provided. But her children still cry.
“My mother says I’m a beautiful woman,” she said. “But in the last week I became ugly.”
Saif Hasnat reported out of Pekerkhal in Bangladesh and Mike Ives out of Seoul.
Source: NY Times