Building bridges between Britain and Bangladesh

September 27th, 2012

One casualty of the worst September storms in decades has been the town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. It has been split in two after flooding forced the closure of a major road bridge over the River Wharfe.

The Mayor of Tadcaster, Steve Cobb, said the Wharfe was at its highest level since major floods hit the area in 2000.

He said a number of businesses close to the river had been flooded. “We’re one community but we are split in two today,” Mr Cobb said.

“We are totally dependent on the bridge. It’s a four or five mile trip around without it, just to get to the other side.

“We have a doctor’s on one side, schools on both sides, all sorts of businesses on either side. We’ve got our fingers crossed. We’ve got everything crossed.”

The Mayor of Tadcaster doesn’t know it but he has a lot in common with Kazi Mahmudullah who lives on the other side of the world in Bangladesh, a country which knows all about floods. Every day he has to jostle with hundreds of buses, trucks, cars and other vehicles to get on a ferry to take him across the river Ganges to get to his job in a solar power factory.

Many of the ferries and other boats that cross the huge river are unsafe because they are old and dilapidated so strong currents and high winds can cause accidents. The journey is made more perilous by climate change which means that rivers like the Ganges and the Wharfe now flood far more frequently.

“It takes two to three hours to cross the river,” he says.

“There aren’t many ferries and we have no other alternative than to wait. If there was a bridge then we could cross the river in 15 minutes.”

The Ganges, known locally as the Padma, divides the capital Dhaka from the south of the country, effectively isolating 30 million people.

Building a bridge across the Ganges has been a long held dream of Bangladeshis and it now looks as though it may finally happen.

The BBC have reported that the World Bank are again considering lending the country the $1.2 billion towards the $3 billion needed to complete the bridge. If it goes ahead it will be the biggest infrastructure project in the country’s history.

The bridge would help connect Bangladesh with neighbouring India and Burma on its eastern side. But it would also transform the lives of the 30 million people living in the under-developed south.

It’s to highlight the plight of people like Kazi Mahmudullah that Practical Action is organising a European speaker tour this November featuring the manager of our Pathways from Poverty project in Bangladesh, Nazmul Chowdhury. Nazmul will address the German, UK and European Parliaments before going on to the climate change talks in Doha.

In the meantime Kazi Mahmudullah will continue to have to take his chances on the ferry. Despite being separated by thousands of miles it’s a journey which Steve Cobb could now probably relate to.

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