Story

A Life Deeply Connected with Water

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Schoolgirls on Bazra Diar Khota are not camera-shy (well, most of them aren't). These children attend a school run by Friendship, a Bangladeshi NGO providing education, vocational training, and healthcare throughout the northern Jamuna char area.

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Mother and child are equally comfortable in the warm water during one of the hottest summers on record in Bangladesh.

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This tiny strip of an island had been breached by floodwaters a few days earlier, which were now receding.

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Sheep, goats, cows, and water buffalo must also learn to live with water.

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These sheep are part of Mohammed Sirajul Haque's modest flock. During recent flooding, Haque spent several days with his sheep on his cot, suspended from the ceiling.

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Jute cultivation

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Jute was once known as "the Golden Fiber of Bangladesh," and was a major source of income. However, the industry plummeted in the 1980s with the rise of synthetics and questionable government decisions. Since 2004 the jute market has made a modest comeback, with the price of raw jute increasing more than 200% as worldwide demand for eco-friendly natural fibers has grown.

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Jute prepared for drying.

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The jute fibers are stripped and dried and eventually woven into rope, sacks, and fabrics.

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Bazra Diar Khota char

Bazra Diar Khota char

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Bazra Diar Khota char

Bazra Diar Khota char

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Ducks are excellent "climate change poultry" due to their adaptability to aquatic extremes.

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Living on a char, the "ol' swimming hole" is about as convenient as it can be, just steps from your home. Its sanitary condition is another matter.

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Fishermen here use traditional boats and nets much as they have for centuries.

On Bangladesh's river islands, villagers contend with treacherous flash flooding, yet depend on water for jute farming, commerce, transportation, and recreation.

It's the fifth largest river in the world. In India it's known as the Bramaputra. Once it crosses into Bangladesh it's called the Jamuna (and the first bridge across the Jamuna River – a span of five kilometers -- wasn't built until 1998). Whatever you call it, monsoons combined with snow and glacier melt upstream bring stunning amounts of water and silt through Bangladesh. This causes rivers to become shallower and wider, triggering extensive riverbank erosion, washing away entire islands (called "chars"), while creating new ones overnight. This keeps the residents here, among the poorest in Bangladesh, on their toes, both figuratively and literally.

Despite the danger and poverty, I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the joy the residents show in their daily lives. Their obvious comfort with the water bespeaks a community that is resilient and adaptable, qualities that will give them a comparative advantage as we all face the new climate reality.