DHAKA -- When Asma married at the age of 16, as many girls do in Bangladesh, she had the same hopes of a better future as all young newlyweds. But Asma’s dreams were not to be realised. Her new husband, seven years her senior, was ill and unable to support a family. Asma, now 34, had no choice but to be the breadwinner in a family of five that also includes two sons, Masud, 10, and Mamun, 4, and a daughter, Kona, 6 months.
Life was made even harder by the family’s location in a village alongside the River Teesta in northern Bangladesh, one of the most food-insecure areas of the country. During the monsoons the river swells over its banks, causing flooding and severe soil erosion. Asma, like thousands of her neighbours, had to move several times as her tiny mud house was washed away.
WFP in Bangladesh
WFP has been helping communities adapt to climate change in Bangladesh for over two decades. In partnership with the government, WFP planted 37 million trees and helped create or rehabilitate:
- 25,000 km of roads above flood levels
- 11,000 km of river and coastal embankments
- 4,000 km of canals for drainage and irrigation
- 2,300 acres of water bodies for fish culture
- 1,000 drinking water tanks
- 400 water tanks for rainwater harvesting and conservation in drought-prone areas
“My life consisted of nightmares only,” says Asma. “When food prices went up and rice was 35 taka [52 US cents] a kilogram, we had to skip two meals a day. I could not afford to send my children to school”.
Asma enrolled in the Enhancing Resiliency (ER) project, one of the programmes that WFP has implemented with the government of Bangladesh and NGOs to respond to, and prepare for, natural disasters. Asma received 2.5 kg of rice and 37.5 taka every day during her six months on the ER project.
As a result of her increased awareness, Asma then joined together with 34 of her neighbours to raise their houses above flood levels. This backbreaking work entailed collecting and carrying 550 cubic meters of soil, weighing nearly two tons, from the river banks and ditches and building a foundation for her new house on higher ground. Asma’s house took 14 days to raise, at a cost of just $700.
Safe from floods
Since 2001, 1.3 million women have received training on disaster preparedness and 30,000 houses have been raised— 4,000 of them under the ongoing ER programme. A newly-confident Asma says, “As an ER participant I raised my house with the help of WFP and my co-workers. Now floods will not be able to wash away whatever assets we have. I can concentrate on my cow-rearing project. My children are back in school. And, most importantly, I have dreams for the future”.
Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Experts predict that climate change could affect more than 70 million Bangladeshis due to the country’s geographic location, low elevation, high population, poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and high dependence on natural resources.