by Tamanna Nazneen
Rehania is a coastal village in Bangladesh on Hatiya Island, Noakhali. Cyclone, coastal flood and water salinity are some of the common natural hazards in Rehania. Recently, a research survey led by DECCMA (Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and Adaptation), under RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit), has been held in this area. For this reason, I had the great opportunity of going to Hatiya and observing the lifestyle of the people in the Rehania village.
Most of the people of Rehania are the victim of natural hazards like floods, river erosion and cyclones. They migrated here from other coastal areas of Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Bhola and Sandhwip (Chittagong). They lost everything from river erosion and cyclones. The Government re-housed them on the two sides of river dam and gave them a small amount of land per family but it was inadequate.
There is a lack of effective livelihoods. At first, people earned their livelihood by farming and fishing but the farming lands in the surrounding areas are also affected by flooding, more than three times per year. Flood water is very saline here and as a result the farming land has become saline. During the dry season, a white layer of salt is visible on the land so farming becomes difficult. Farmers grow Aaush paddy (a variation of paddy which grows in the summer and is harvested during the monsoon), chilli and ground nut but in most cases crops are destroyed because of flood and water salinity.
Due to global warming, sea levels are rising and salinity of the sea is entering up stream through rivers and feeder canals resulting in most of the farmers changing their livelihood. In recent years, they earn their livelihood by fishing and doing other jobs through migration. Seasonal migration is an important livelihood strategy to these families. More than 70% of their incomes are derived from outside the village. Most of the seasonal migrants work in brickfields in Chittagong under a contract and after a working season return home with their wages, of which a significant amount is spent buying fishing nets and boats (in share). They also send some remittances for their family. Fishing is their monsoon season job and during dry season they always migrate for other work (in brickfields).
In Rehania, many women are self-employed doing animal husbandry. They lease cattle and tend. In exchange, they get some money and can sell milk after giving a specific portion to the cattle owner. When we went to Rehania village for the survey and wanted to interview them, at first, they thought we were government workers who had come to them for reporting about their life conditions, so that they could get their desired governmental help for materials for building more sustainable houses and a sanitary latrine. They were eager to take effective training about cultivation methods of flood prone areas and also wanted a subsidy for agriculture, saline water tolerant crop seeds and fishing materials.
When they came to know about our research and its aim, they became tamed, but most of them spread their helping hand and cordially responded to our questionnaire. Though their life is afflicted with lots of pain, they never give up their smiles and hospitality. Whenever we went to any respondent’s house, they treated us with green coconuts, ground nuts, mangoes and whatever they had. We were amazed with their cordial behaviour and realised again the hospitable nature of the Bangladeshi people.
We were also amazed with the children of Rehania. They were very interesting and curiously stared at us with our tablets and questionnaire papers. They wanted to follow us around but we insisted that they did not and instead go to their school. Whenever it was possible we offered them chocolates, biscuits and juice to have with us. They also gave us red hibiscus flowers. This flower is available in every house and roadside.
Natural disasters are a part of their life. They always have to face it and struggle against it just like other littoral people. Naturally, they are brave and have adaptational capacities in such a hostile environment. They know how to keep their house safe from cyclones by planting banana and coconut trees around their houses. For a better livelihood they migrate to other places and try to send remittances. They are optimistic about their life. They just want some help from the government to make their livelihood more sustainable. The days may be hard, but their hopes and aspirations are never tamed. The always-smiling face is the symbol of their life spirit.