Musammat Chameli Begum (31), GUK field officer. GUK is Concerns partner in this area. They help implement the Zurich programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern WorldwideMalika Begum is a programme participant of the Zurich programme. She benefitted hugely from the CSA aspect and learned to grown vegetables, even when there is flooding. She grows them on raised platforms. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern WorldwideMalika Begum is a programme participant of the Zurich programme. She benefitted hugely from the CSA aspect and learned to grown vegetables, even when there is flooding. She grows them on raised platforms. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

Raising homes and hopes in flooded Bangladesh

Raising homes and hopes in flooded Bangladesh
Story28 June 2023Lucy Bloxham

“My grandson was 16 months old. There was a big flood and everything was underwater. We were sitting on the cot to get away from the water. At some point, my grandson fell into the water and died.”

It has been six years since Malika Begum lost her grandson. Every year since, the water has returned. She sits in her tin-walled, one-room home in northern Bangladesh, telling a story that is both personal and national.

Malika Begum is a programme participant of the Zurich programme. She benefitted hugely from the CSA aspect and learned to grown vegetables, even when there is flooding. She grows them on raised platforms. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
Malika Begum is a participant in the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

A nation under water

Two-thirds of Bangladesh lies less than five metres under sea level, and up to 30% of the country is flooded during the annual monsoon season, destroying crops, shelter, and lives. Every four or five years, even more severe flooding covers 60% of Bangladesh – a national disaster in every sense.

People living in extreme poverty, such as Malika, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In Malika’s home district of Rangpur, flooding is now part of life, and the difference between an annual event and an annual catastrophe is adaptation.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. With 85% of people devoid of safe drinking water, the riverine and coastal Mongla Upazila in the Bagerhat district bear the brunt of the problem. An invasion of saline seawater has made the sweet water in ponds, canals, and other water bodies of the district’s coastal villages unfit. Salinity higher than the permissible limit has also been found in underground water, making it difficult for the villagers to use healthy water. Phot
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan/Concern Worldwide

The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

The most effective adaptation for flooding in this case is simple in concept but demands money that Malika and her community do not have: Raising society above the flood line.

With the support of Concern Worldwide and the Z Zurich Foundation, Malika’s home has been raised on a concrete plinth above the flood line. Malika’s garden has also been raised, with the vegetables flowering high above the ground. The road passing through her village has been raised by six feet, ensuring that the community remains connected during the 4-6 months of annual flooding.

Concern has also constructed water pumps above the flood line, ensuring that clean water is always available.

Over 80,000 Bangladeshis are supported by the Z Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

Musammat Chameli Begum (31), GUK field officer. GUK is Concerns partner in this area. They help implement the Zurich programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
Community members using a road that has been raised six feet. The work was funded through the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
The local school has been built upon a raised embankement, protecting it from flooding. Photo: Gavin Douglas / Concern Worldwide
The local school has been built upon a raised embankement, protecting it from flooding. Photo: Gavin Douglas / Concern Worldwide
An initiative in Concern's Zurich programme is to build water pumps on platforms above the flood line. This means water is available even during the floods. In Rangpur, Concern’s Zurich programme helps tackle the annual problem of flooding in communities, a problem growing in danger with climate change. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme funded the construction of water pumps which sit above the flood line, ensuring that clean water is always available. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
Malika Begum, participant in the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas / Concern Worldwide
“It was very difficult for us to protect the children. The water used to flood down, we had fever and diarrhoea, but now it’s much safer. There’s no inundation. If there is a flood, we can use the road, we can travel.”
Malika Begum

Preparing together by sharing knowledge

Complementing the construction of flood-resilient infrastructure, Concern and Zurich have established a self-help group for community members to share knowledge and collectively prepare for flooding.

The self-help group, which has been running since 2019, has seventeen attending members, who represent 1700 households in the district.

The members share techniques and innovations such as bringing livestock indoors during flooding, utilising local materials to prevent soil erosion, how to build bamboo bridges, the introduction of vegetables that thrive despite the changing climate, a flooding early-warning system, and more.

“We prepare for the floods immediately after getting the early warning”, says Malika. “We have the dry food ready. We raise our beds, and keep all our things raised, including the livestock. If the flood is severe, we go to the community flood centre. I learned a lot from this project.”

Ashraf is the president of the committee alert group, which warns community members of impending flooding and distributes lifejackets. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Ashraf is the president of the committee alert group, which warns community members of impending flooding and distributes lifejackets. The committee is funded by the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
Malika Begum is a programme participant of the Zurich programme. She benefitted hugely from the CSA aspect and learned to grown vegetables, even when there is flooding. She grows them on raised platforms. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
Malika grows vegetables on raised gardens, which protect the crops from flooding. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

After advice heard in the self-help group, Malika now grows pumpkins and leafy vegetables in her raised garden - for which the seeds were provided by Concern Worldwide. Before, Malika would buy vegetables from the market. If money was short, she would eat only rice with dried chillies.

Standing under the green canopy of her garden, Malika feels the shoots of her new vegetables. The garden provides much more than food - Malika's future, in her home, is more secure. She has hope.

"I like taking care of it. I am very proud. I water it every day."

Share your concern
Share