Memories of Monsoon
October 1, 2017 by Culture, Europe and External Affairs Communications Team No Comments | Category International Development
Maren Thompson is Fundraising Officer in Oxfam’s Philanthropy and Partnerships team in Scotland. Maren spent her childhood living in Bangladesh and has returned many times since.
Water is a characteristic and cherished part of Bangladeshi life, a country which lies on average just ten metres above sea level. Around seven percent of the country is covered with water, and larger areas are routinely flooded during the monsoon season. Communities are used to the waters rising and subsiding each year and life continues pretty much as normal.
I recall when I was about nine and living in Dhaka, we once played football on a flooded field. The ball would float at about knee height and every time you kicked it, water splashed all over the other players. We were soaked through by the end of the game!
Whenever my family and I travelled during monsoon season, I knew we’d be in for an adventure. Roads would often be waterlogged so we’d end up abandoning our Landrover and hitching a ride with a passing ‘nouka’, a long wooden boat powered by a man and a long pole. I loved travelling by boat through the small tributaries, passing quaint villages and gliding past submerged palm trees. It was magical.
The rains themselves were spectacular. I remember how heavy the air felt just before monsoon, and the sense of relief and exhilaration when the clouds finally burst. I’ve never seen such big raindrops! The dust that had gathered on the plants and streets was washed away in an instant. Before long, most of the roads would be submerged and you’d have to be careful not to lose your flip flops when walking to the shops.
Since I lived in Bangladesh, some 25 years ago, much has changed. Climate change means the monsoon rains have intensified and meltwater from the Himalayas has increased, causing rivers to swell and rise higher and higher each year. My friends tell me that each year the floods reach one step higher – in reference to the steps leading up to their front door – and that if they continue, the waters will soon enter their house.
Although massive efforts have been made by the Government of Bangladesh and aid agencies to mitigate the consequences of climate change, such as raising villages and protecting riverbanks, communities are facing increasingly catastrophic and unpredictable situations. The most recent floods are thought to be the most severe in 100 years with more than a third of the country submerged. Over 5.7 million people have been affected, significantly more than what was predicted and planned for. Communities returning to their homes are finding buildings destroyed, food reserves washed away and crops ruined. The risk of malnutrition and disease is high due to widespread food shortages and damaged water supplies.
With support from the Scottish Government, Oxfam is providing over 186,000 flood-hit people with clean drinking water, food supplies, emergency shelter, hygiene kits, and other necessities. We are working alongside the government and other agencies to try to minimise the loss and suffering caused by this crisis. We are extremely grateful to the Scottish Government for their generous donation of £120,000 to assist us in this life-saving response.