‘A rich man in the morning and a pauper at night'

Lyndall Stein
6 August 2007

by Lyndall Stein, executive director of Concern UK


It was raining when I was in in Dhaka last week. Everyone was worried as we listened to the singer as he sang the beautiful Bengali song ‘Vaoaia',

‘ I was a rich man in the morning and a pauper at night ...river give some mercy to me, do not break my small house, be kind to me river.

I had a beautiful smile in my family and you just snatched it away.(more...)

I am already a dead man how can you kill me gain.'

No occasion in Bangladesh is complete without music - this meeting was organised in support of the Nodi O Jibon project, the remarkable coalition of people and organizations initiated by Concern to get greater attention to the Chars - the riverine landmasses in the North . 

This event illustrated both the tremendous challenges that Bangladeshis face, but also the remarkable commitment, energy, and expertise that they share.

The meeting included voluntary organizations, researchers, journalists, economists, young people, old people, business people - all working together to find ways to improve the long term prospects of these poor people who live with so little, and face so much uncertainty - but the longer term was one challenge. Meanwhile, the waters were rising.

I had seen it earlier in the week when I visited the remarkable and beautiful floodplain in the North East, the Haor area, where 5 million people live half the year in remote hills, which for months become a flood plain, accessible - but only by boat.

I had seen their precarious existence - villages huddled together, often on islands no bigger than a football field - 20 or 30 homes, the edges of these minute islands, given a little protection from the lapping waves, by a few bamboo mats.

The waters were rising then, they were already engulfed with mud , a bit more rain and they would be overwhelmed. Everything was wet - they could not husk their rice, the children were coughing - and this was before the latest torrential rains.

When I returned to Dhaka everyone was anxious - the waters were rising everywhere. I looked out of my bedroom window, two days before the water started to overwhelm the little corrugated iron shacks across the lake - now it was in their houses, the children leaving for school, with books carried on their heads, woman wading in their saris though the filthy water, small children up to their bellies in the brown murk.

In our office the emergency team sat together looking at maps, discussing the latest news from our partners - it was looking bad - flood alerts were at danger level, and immediate help was needed. Kieron, Musha and Melik decided right away to authorize the necessary expenditure, rescue boats, food, water - £20k was needed right away. I knew then that much more would be needed; this was only the beginning .

The beautiful Bengali songs of the rivers, remind us of the suffering of the Bangladeshi people- but also of their resilient,resourcefullness and creativity.

On the tiny island of Badla in the Haor, I told them about the floods in England, I suggested that we might need to have some lessons on how to manage floods - Sufia and Channumian laughed ‘they are welcome, we are always happy to have visitors'. Back in the boat I looked back at the precarious little group of straw houses, huddled together, the water lapping at their doors. Everyone was still waving and smiling.

Picture via flickR.

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