In another place

November 15th, 2009

In another part of the world, the place I have been today could be described as paradise. The sandy lanes are lined by bamboo and banana palms. There is no traffic and the birds sing in the trees. The water of the lagoon laps against the embankment just below you. Sunshine and high temperatures virtually guaranteed. But this small area of north west Bangladesh was a long way from my idea of paradise.

I have been meeting the people that Practical Action is hoping to help through the Shiree project. As explained previously, Shiree is deliberately targeting the very hard to reach “extreme poor”. We are working with people whose lives have been ruined by the annual indundation of the Tista river. The homes of the people I have met cling to the embankment above the river like limpets on rocks. Every year their houses are flooded, and most of the people have already lost six or seven homes through the erosion caused by the river. The land the houses are perched upon is owned by the state, so it is free, which is why they are there.

The people that I have met, whose lives are dominated by nature, mainly earn tiny amounts of money working on the same land for local farmers. But it’s not enough for any of them. We usually reserve the word “starvation” for long lasting famines, but one person I met today, Rahman (not his real name) is 80 years old and goes without food for ten days every month. Everyone I met goes without food for two or three days at a time during the wet season.

At Practical Action we usually talk about how strong poor women and men can be. But the people I met today were generally very defeated and demoralised. Rahman said he was just waiting to die. There is a little hope on the horizon, with the Shiree project providing some income-earning opportunities. I really hope it works for Rahman’s sake and the 50,000 others we are trying to reach.

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