Given the summer we’ve had it seems fitting that Britain’s first Olympic medal was won in a cycle race which took place during a torrential downpour. Commenting on her silver medal in the women’s cycling road race Lizzie Armitstead said “I hate racing in the heat. The harsher the conditions the better for me. I’ve been praying for rain, particularly when we were in the breakaway and there was a real downpour”. But for many poor and vulnerable people around the world the heavy rains this summer rather than being an answer to prayers have been a catastrophe.
At the end of June three weeks’ worth of unprecedented heavy rain left at least a hundred dead and over a quarter of a million people homeless in Bangladesh and northern India. On 9 July Russia held a national day of mourning for 171 people who died in its worst flooding disaster ever in the southern Krasnodar region. And on 21 July a ‘freak’ downpour left large areas of Beijing, the location of the last Olympic games, underwater with over 70 dead. Now large areas of the capital of the Philippines, Manila, are underwater with at least 50 dead and over a quarter of a million people forced to leave their homes.
Even by the standard of extreme weather events, the summer rains of 2012 have been exceptional claiming the lives of hundreds of people and leaving behind them a trail of destruction which will take years to repair. In Britain one month’s worth of rain fell in just 24 hours in July, wreaking havoc across the country. The extent of the flooding can clearly be seen in this new Practical Action video which shows rivers bursting their banks and roads becoming deluged in Sidmouth in Devon and contrasts them with the flooding in Bangladesh which has claimed so many lives.
The result is that flood victims now find themselves in the front line in the fight against climate change. Typical is Hosneara, 28, who lives with her husband Zakir Hossain, a street vendor, and their three children along the Jamuna River in Bangladesh. “During the floods our home would be completely under water and we had to leave our home and take shelter on the embankment where we had to stay until the water receded. Each time we returned, our hut would be a wreck. We have had to move four times since we were married.”
Practical Action has been working for many years in Bangladesh to help people like Hosnera and Zakir build their own flood-proof houses. The houses are raised above the floods by building them on a six foot plinth of sandy soil, brick and concrete which is strong and high enough to withstand repeated flooding. We have also been working to prevent flood water contaminating drinking wells as last year 110,000 Bangladeshi people died from water borne diseases caused by drinking stagnant and polluted water.
But when it comes to making politicians sit up and notice, people like Hosnera and Zakir being poor and isolated have no voice. To give them one Practical Action is organising a speaker tour so that their message can be taken directly to politicians and for the first time will be mobilising the considerable Bangladeshi community in this country to act on their behalf.
Led by Nazmul Chowdhury who works directly with flood victims in Bangladesh on Practical Actions ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project, the tour will visit the Czech Republic and the British, German and European Parliaments in November before going on to the next round of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Qatar in December. As part of the tour Practical Action will also train one hundred campaigners from the Bangladeshi community in London and Birmingham so that they lobby their local politicians directly.
You can also help give people like Hosneara and Zakir a voice by donating to our work.