Flooded out of her home five times – but fighting back

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to the negative consequences of climate change. Tropical cyclones and flooding are becoming more frequent and severe, while in coastal areas rising sea levels are causing increasing water-logging and salt contamination, crippling agriculture and making water undrinkable.

Islamic Relief works in 12 out of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, and protecting vulnerable people against the ravages of nature is an important part of our work.

The beneficiaries are people like Asma Begum, 26, who lives in Gaibanda – 300km to the north west of Dhaka. It’s an area plagued by floods and river bank erosion.

In the past, Asma lived on various chars: fertile but vulnerable islands of silt and sand in the flood plain. Chars can quickly become uninhabitable when a flood sets in, and Asma has lost her home not just once but five times in this way.

“I’ve been through so much pain because you get established on one char, you build your house, you plant your seeds, and then you lose everything,” she says.

Asma’s hopes are now raised, literally. Her family is one of 21 who dismantled their homes in the flood plain in early 2012 and, with Islamic Relief’s help, rebuilt them seven feet higher on top of a huge, newly constructed earth platform or ‘plinth’. Last April Asma, her husband and their daughter moved in with four goats and 30 chickens. This was just two months before the floods came, and all the animals survived.

Asma is jubilant. “It was a big flood like in 1988, but we’ve suffered very little. I can easily look after my family, my daughter and our livestock.”

Every home on the plinth has a vegetable garden, some of the houses have large pumpkins growing over their roofs. But Islamic Relief and the communities we work with are leaving nothing to chance.

Every family has a flood survival kit in readiness, just in case. Asma’s contains rice, vegetable seeds, a length of rope to tie belongings together and secure them to a raft, dried food, matches, a fuel-efficient portable stove, oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets, dysentery medicine, chewable vitamin C tablets, and even a bar of carbolic soap to ward off snakes, which hate the smell of carbolic.

Asma is now secretary of the village disaster committee, and is keen to see other families welcomed onto the plinth to stay safe in future floods. “We are very happy and proud to be able to help other people.”

Islamic Relief has helped over 180 families in Gaibanda to raise the level of their houses to protect them. For Asma and her neighbours we provided 250 million cubic feet of earth to build the plinth and installed two wells for the community plus a latrine for every family.

Thanks to your generous giving to our Ramadan appeal in 2012, boosted by an additional donation from the UK Government, almost 100,000 more people like Asma will get help with disaster protection over the next three years. We’ll help people to market their crops, embrace innovative ideas such as trees with a high tolerance for salty water, and develop new ways to make a living such as crab cultivation and reed mat production.

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