Holiday Experience in a Delta

by Sumana Banerjee

A holiday in Egypt during September this year was my first experience of a delta outside of DECCMA. Like any holiday it was supposed to be a break from work but quite on the contrary, I found myself asking questions, spotting differences and similarities, and doing some online research based on our DECCMA themes. That is why I am writing about the things I learnt on a holiday on our DECCMA blog.

1 The Giza Pyramid Complex, Egypt

 

Significance of the pyramid shape

For most tourists Egypt is synonymous with The Great Pyramid of Giza and I was no exception. The first glimpse of the man-made marvel from the ancient world made my heart skip a beat. It was an enthralling experience to witness the 3000 year old exemplary creation of man. There are plenty of theories about the construction of pyramids and their mysteries. The one fact which will be relevant here is the shape of the pyramid which represents the physical body emerging from the earth and ascended towards the light of the sun. This shape was thus considered sacred by ancient Egyptians. The Papyrus which was first used in ancient Egypt has a cross-section resembling the triangular face of the pyramid and we were told at a Papyrus Institute that this was also very important and sacred for the ancient Egyptians.

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I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the triangular face of the pyramid, the triangular cross-section of the papyrus, and the triangular shape of a delta. I wondered if the delta being a lifeline of the region could have any role to play in influencing the triangular faces of the pyramids.

2 Cross-section of a papyrus stalk

The River Nile

The very first sight of the River Nile at Cairo brought back geography lessons and hours of meticulous map pointing learnt way back in school. I was seeing the world’s longest river and Cairo was the apex of the Nile delta. Our itinerary entailed a 3-night river cruise along the Nile and I was excited to experience it. From our river cruise, we availed an optional speedboat ride to a Nubian village (about 8kms from Aswan) and that gave us an opportunity to soak our feet in the cool waters of the Nile. Before this ride, I knew that cataracts are for aging eyes but during this speedboat ride, our guide showed us the first cataract of the Nile. Cataracts are a mass of rocky formations in the riverbed jutting well above the water. Around this cataract the otherwise calm water was breaking and speeding naturally.

3 Cataract of the River Nile

Alexandria

The journey from Cairo to Alexandria took us about three hours by car. I noticed a stretch where there were many Brick kilns on both sides of the road. This was similar to what we see in the Indian Bengal Delta (IBD). I am not sure if the areas under brickfields in Egypt have undergone similar land transformations like in IBD but I wondered if conversion of deltaic lands into brickfields is a globally lucrative trend.

4 Chimneys of brick-kilns along the highway between Cairo and Alexandria

Flooding of the Nile

Since time immemorial Nile floods have quenched the thirst of the adjacent flood plains and added silt which has played a major role to support the Egyptian civilization. While no flooding led to drought followed by famine, severe flooding proved hazardous. It was the moderate flooding that the Egyptians looked forward to and this was the important part of their agricultural cycle as after the inundation season they sowed the seeds. Like any natural hazard, floods back then too had an effect on the economy – nature of flooding would have an impact on the quality of the harvest which will determine the tax to be paid. These administrative decisions were taken based on the exemplary mechanisms which were in place to predict the floods and thereby the quality of the harvest.

While scientists today have the flood-prediction models, the ancient Egyptians had the Nilometer. We saw one such Nilometer at the Temple of Kom Ombo, Aswan. It looked like a well to us till we were explained the elaborate architecture it housed. Upon looking down, we saw a flight of steps going down along the interior wall of the cylindrical well (see image 6). The water in it is the water of the Nile as the well is connected to the River. Being situated within the temple complex it was accessible only by the priests and kings who were responsible for assessing the water level in the Nilometer, making predictions based on how many steps were inundated, before finally deciding the tax. Like our scientists today who use previous years’ data to fit into models, the ancient Egyptians too kept a record of the previous years’ flood level by keeping marks on the walls. Unfortunately, now these Nilometers have been rendered defunct after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

5 Nilometer – outside view

6 Nilometer – inside view

Developmental Project, Relocation, and Resettlement

Continuing the discussion on floods, the construction of the Aswan High Dam was an effort to introduce controlled flooding alongside providing water for irrigation and generating hydroelectricity. The economic benefits of this developmental project have mainly been in agricultural and electrical production. The construction of the dam involved resettlement of about 50,000 Egyptians and relocation of ancient monuments as the reservoir, Lake Nasser, created by the dam has flooded the valley. The famous Abu Simbel temple was relocated to higher grounds and I did not understand that the temple was not built at its present place till the guide told me. Not only did I feel overawed seeing the gigantic facade of the temple, I felt awe at the acumen involved in making this relocation happen.

The relocation of the temple was a great feat achieved by archaeologists but it might have been easier than the relocation of the Nubians as the temple did not have a lifestyle and tradition entwined with its original land. Upon some research I learnt that the construction of the Aswan High Dam is not the first time that the Nubians were moving from their lands. During the construction and heightening of the Aswan Low Dam, these people moved to higher lands but after the construction of the High Dam their villages were submerged under Lake Nasser. The Egyptian government put in years of study to make this a successful planned resettlement by trying to replicate as many features of the Nubian villages and also by providing electricity, road network, and irrigational facilities.[1] However all don’t seem happy (as informed by our guide) with the resettlement as this new place hampers the traditional Nubian way of life in many ways. Some online research would also throw light on the gaps in the resettlement process. These lessons might be beneficial for other governments making efforts in planned resettlement.

7 Panoramic view of the Aswan High Dam

Migration then and now

The mystery behind the construction of pyramids still remains and there are countless theories trying to answer who constructed those and how they managed to achieve such a height of architectural precision in ancient times. One of the theories which I learnt was that the farmers from the plains came up to the Giza Plateau, when the Nile’s annual flood inundated their agricultural lands, to work as labourers in the construction of the Pyramids. Skilled architects and artists supervised these labour groups. My DECCMA-laced mind made a note of this example of seasonal migration from more than 3000 years ago which had an environmental factor (at the source) prompting it and an economic opportunity in the destination.

We got a very brief glimpse of migration today as our guide informed us that tourism being an important industry (tourism took a hit after the revolution in 2011 but is slowly picking up since 2016), people migrate to Cairo and Alexandria to work in the hotels, with tourist companies, or even as freelancing guides.

Sobek & Dakshin Rai

The Nile is famous for the Nile Crocodiles and the ancient Egyptians worshipped crocodile as god Sobek. The crocodile, although feared, was venerated and given a place in the temple of Kom Ombo, beside which there is now a Crocodile Museum showcasing the relevance of crocodiles in ancient Egypt with its large collection of mummified crocodiles. The worship was to please Sobek and pray so that he would not harm anyone. I saw this as an extension of the people of the Indian Sundarbans (West Bengal, India) worshipping the Royal Bengal Tiger in the form of Dakshin Rai (Lord of the South). Dakshin Rai is greatly feared in the delta but also worshipped along with Bon Bibi (guardian spirit of the forest) to not harm the people who venture into the forest for crab and honey collection. Separated by thousands of miles and years, the similarity in the belief of the two deltaic civilizations fascinated me.

Had DECCMA not happened to me, I would not have enjoyed my holiday the way I did – taking down notes on my phone, doing some online reading, drawing parallels across deltas, and wondering about things which would not have occurred to me otherwise. On learning about the tomb raiders I had a thought with which I shall end this post. The Great Pyramid of Giza and most of the tombs in the Valley of Kings have been wiped clean of artefacts and treasures which were believed to be there as was the ancient Egyptian custom to help the deceased continue onto the next life. I would like to believe that the tomb raiders who took these objects were in need of the money or wanted luxury and concentrated only on their immediate present which made them overlook the fact that their act was depriving hundreds of generations from witnessing a magnificent past of Egypt. Let us not be the tomb raiders for our future generations. We can do our little bits to not exploit the environment to meet our immediate needs and luxuries so that we do not deprive the future generations from witnessing a clean, healthy, and beautiful Earth.

[1] R. A. Beddis. The Aswan High Dam and the resettlement of the Nubian people. Geography 1963; 48(1): 79.

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DECCMA team discusses the forthcoming Bangladesh Delta Plan with the country’s Planning Commission

by Saiful Alam

The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP) takes an adaptive management approach and the strategy is based on eight hotspots in the country, one of which is covered within the DECCMA study area. In a meeting with Professor Shamsul Alam, Member Secretary of the Global Economic Department in the Planning commission, the DECCMA Bangladesh team highlighted how project findings can inform the plan.

DECCMA Bangladesh PI Professor Munsur Rahman presents Professor Shamsul of the Planning Commission with the latest project publications

DECCMA’s research is helping to build deeper understanding of the cross sectoral adaptation that will be required in future. Dr Michele Leone, who oversees DECCMA for the International Development Research Centre, outlined the inventory of adaptations and findings of autonomous adaptations in the household survey would inform the implementation the Bangladesh Delta Plan.

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DECCMA Bangladesh Deputy PI, Dr Mashfiqus Salehin, added that the focus of DECCMA on migration has created significant insights who migrates, where, and with what consequences, and that the findings will be integrated into a model that will project changes in the delta in the context of climate change.

Referring to the linkages between adaptation and economic growth, Professor Alam said that the  Bangladesh Delta Plan makes significant progress compared to earlier water sector plans, by forging linkages between adaptation and economic development and growth in the country.  Professor Alam reiterated that for improved adaptation we need improved knowledge through multi-disciplinary research and innovations, and welcomed a Ganges Brahmaputra Meghna Delta Brief from the team, which summarises research findings to date.

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Should we unpack “community-based adaptation”?

by Natalie Suckall                           

Despite many examples of successful community-based adaptation, DECCMA’s extensive household survey  across four deltas found very little evidence of collective action. Rather than being activities in addition to those of the household, instead community-level effects are only observed when there is an aggregation of household-based activities. Does this mean that we need to better interrogate “community-based adaptation”?

Natalie Suckall presents at the Development Studies Association 2017 annual conference

Interest in this topic emerged at the recent Development Studies Association 2017 annual conference, held at the University of Bradford. Five DECCMA researchers led a panel on sustainable deltas. From varied presentations on observed adaptation, adaptation governance, migration and remittances, and migration and adaptation, a common theme emerged – that of scale. In particular, how does DECCMA understand events that take place at the community level, as opposed to the household or national level?

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One of the issues faced by DECCMA researchers was that no examples of collective action and very few examples of community based adaptation were found during our initial literature review of observable adaptation in the deltas.

Although some adaptation interventions were characterised as CBA, their impact was often felt at the household level where different households within the community were affected in different ways. For example, polders (land reclaimed from the sea) in Bangladesh are often described as a community adaptation as they aim to protect entire communities from flooding as well as providing land for farmers and fishers. Sometimes communities are involved in their construction.

Whilst communities may be involved in the construction of polders, this does not mean that the benefits are equally spread.  Within each polder there exist multiple competing interests between government, farmers, pond owners, and the landless.  Larger and better off households are more likely to be successful farmers and fishers, with profit and yield unlikely to be distributed to the landless poor. What this really means is that each household is affected by the polder in a different way – and thus to talk of it as a community-based adaptation hides these differences.

Our survey of 6000 households in the four study sites provided an opportunity to search for examples of collective action. We found that in all four locations less than a quarter of households were involved in a cooperative group.  The highest membership was in the Indian Mahandi at 25%, whilst it was 14% in Ghana, 8% in Bangladesh, and only 6% in the Indian Bengal delta.

In light of these findings, DECCMA’s integrated assessment model considers only national and household-level adaptations. Our survey evidence shows that community-based adaptation is far less important than household level, and is captured by aggregating household-level benefits. Since findings show that community-based adaptation can have variable effects, we should perhaps interrogate it before promoting as an appropriation adaptation to climate change.

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Do writeshops work…?

By Jon Lawn

Do writeshops work…?

…this was my first thought when the idea was floated! Do we really need to take people away to get them to concentrate on their work? I soon found out we do!

Despite my initial scepticism, the DECCMA Northern Team Writeshop has been a great success.  We have gathered colleagues from around the country (and some from further afield), who would’t usually have the time to sit together for three days. Situated in a picturesque village in the New Forest, we are surrounded by delightful English countryside and autumnal colours. Stick your head outdoors and you hear birdsong and smell the rustic smell of an open fire.  Look around and you see ponies, cattle and birds. Peace at last!

The silence in our meeting room is unnerving.  I am so used to DECCMA meetings being full of talk, presentations, lively discussion and debate – this eerie quiet reminds me of an exam hall.  All I hear hour after hour is the gentle ‘tap tap’ of fingers on keyboards and occasional hushed whispers of collaborators discussing how many words they’ve written and the order of paragraphs. ‘Are they really working’ I think…?

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Regular gatherings and updates from the team prove my continued scepticism to be unfounded.  Thousands upon thousands of words have been written, entire papers have gone through multiple reviews with ‘track changes’ an essential companion.  Thoughts have changed and evolved, analyses have developed and clarity has been sought.  The amount and speed of progress is amazing.  Papers have gone from being a mere idea and structure to almost complete.

We punctuate our writing sessions with forays into the damp countryside – some fresh air to revive frazzled brains and to invigorate the soul.  Topics of conversation enlighten each other on progress and share trains of thought – with valuable contributions and insightful comments received in return. Even the drizzle doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm for ploughing on, both with the walks, and with the writing.

I will admit to be unnerved about the lack of agenda items going into this meeting.  With the majority of the sessions titled ‘Writing Session’ with the instruction ‘Self-Organise’ next to it – my usual planning and control of meetings is removed. There are no presentations to prepare and no minutes to write! When asked in our introductory session about my goals for the meeting, my reply is simply “to make sure you guys write stuff!”

The dedicated time given to writing is key. Providing an environment where academics and researchers aren’t disturbed by the busyness and demands of an office environment is proving efficient.  Email is not banned (although I contemplated withholding the WiFi password!) – but self-control and discipline is displayed, and even encouraged, by the participants. They have grasped and bought into the ethos of the writeshop, and in many cases appear to crave the quiet, uninterrupted time to put their head down and focus solely on one area of analysis.

So what’s the key to an effective writeshop?

Planning in advance – there is no point having people sitting around for three days with nothing to write!  Participants must come with goals in mind, and a clean schedule to devote time and effort to the cause.  We asked the team to complete templates, stating the papers they would be working on and with whom they needed to collaborate – both on writing and reviewing.  This planning forced the team to focus in advance, and not just turn up with no idea what was going on.

Variability is also important.  I found you should not overestimate the concentration span of a person – to get someone to focus on one activity for an entire day is unrealistic! More than an hour is pushing it for the average person.  Hence we built in times where we went for walks, ate lunch together in a different location and generally made purposeful attempts to switch our focus to different tasks to provide intervals and a change of pace.

Within the variability we also provided flexibility. I was amazed on Day 1 that these grown-ups kept asking me for permission. ‘Can I work on this task Jon?’, ‘Can I not go for the walk now as I’m in the zone Jon?’, ‘Jon, can I pop out and get a coffee/go for a run/phone home?’. It was obvious I was the keeper of the meeting!  But, in all reality, we aimed to provide an environment that was best for people to work, and this would be different for different individuals.  My response to (virtually) every request was ‘sure, whatever works best for you’.

We have seen a real step change in the amount of writing achieved during these three days. Plans have already been mooted to continue the momentum next year.

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2nd round of District Level Stakeholder Workshop, Bhadrak (Mahanadi Delta)

The second round of district level stakeholder workshop for the Mahanadi Delta was jointly organized by Chilika Development Authority and Sansristi on 12th September, 2017 at Bhadrak. Jadavpur University and Centre for Environment and Development provided technical inputs and guided in the planning process. The objectives of the workshop were –

  • Share DECCMA’s findings with respect to the work packages and seek stakeholders’ comments and observations 
  • Seek stakeholder feedback regarding Barriers to Policy implementation & Criteria for Successful Adaptation

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The participants in the workshop were from government departments, Banks, Universities, NGOs, CBOs, and SHGs. There were a total of 33 participants comprising 23 men and 10 women.

DECCMA was introduced and its objectives were shared. Following this, the findings from the project were shared with respect to governance analysis, risk, hazard, multi-hazard, net migration maps, household survey, and adaptation examples taking place in the DECCMA study area of the Mahanadi Delta. The findings were shared firstly at the study area level and then concentrated on the Bhadrak district for evoking better responses from stakeholders.

Barriers to Policy Implementation and Criteria for Successful Adaptation surveys were conducted. The questionnaires were translated into local language Odia and participants were handed out either the English version or Odia version depending on their preferences. The analyses of these surveys are currently being carried out by the team.

Insights were gained from stakeholders on the effects of climate change, vulnerability, migration and adaptation taking place in the Puri district of the Mahanadi Delta. Some key responses are as follows :

–         In migration and Out migration of the various blocks of the district have different reasons (eg Basudevpur and Chandbali). Seasonal migration needs to be captured.

–         The movement of men and women are different. The destination is generally Gujarat and South (Kerala). Young girls are also migrating independently to work in garment factories.

–          Fishing has been restricted for the Dhamra port, which in turn is affecting the livelihood of the people. This leads to migration.

–          To boost agriculture, many initiatives are being taken by the Govt department of Agriculture such as provision of crop insurance, supporting crop diversification, saline tolerant paddy supply, appointment of female agriculture officers, extension work  etc

–          Plantation of mangrove can reduce the cyclonic effect in coastal areas but it needs to be taken up by the communities in a large scale.

–          In pre disaster preparedness programmes, participation of women is good. In Flood/ Cyclone Shelter Management committees one third members are women.

–          In micro planning for livelihood (under Livelihood Mission), disaster is not specifically factored in.

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DECCMA and ASSAR present at UNU-WIDER Development Conference in Ghana

by Prosper Adiku, DECCMA Ghana RiU focal point

On October 6th, Kwasi Appeaning-Addo participated at the UNU-WIDER Development Conference held in Accra.

The UNU-WIDER Conference, held under the theme ‘Migration and mobility- new frontiers for research and policy’ was jointly organised by the UNU-WIDER and the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA). The 2-day conference comprised plenary, parallel sessions with contributed papers, and a poster session. The conference explored the relationships between migration, mobility, and development, with a focus on South-South movements and the African region. It aimed to bring together new and innovative research from economics and other disciplines that can inform broader policy-relevant debate and action.

UNU WIDER conference

Profs. Chris Gordon (2nd L) and Appeaning-Addo (2nd R) at the Environment and Natural Resources parallel session of the Conference (Photograph credit: Wendy Boakye)

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Presenting on DECCMA’s findings on migration and mobility across deltas, Professor Appeaning-Addo was part of the “Environment and Natural Resources” parallel session chaired by Linguère Mously Mbaye. The Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia programme was also represented by Professor Chris Gordon of Adaptation at Scale in Arid and Semi-arid land (ASSAR). Drawing together their findings on deltas and semi-arid lands in Ghana, DECCMA and ASSAR jointly developed a research brief ‘Migration: An Opportunity or Threat to Adaptation?’ which was available at the conference.

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DECCMA participates in webinar on gender roles in water scarcity-induced migration

by Katharine Vincent

Creating evidence to contribute to policy support for gender-sensitive adaptation in deltas requires significant sex-disaggregated data and investigation of gender implications of migration. DECCMA has, so far, surveyed 6000 households across four deltas in migrant-sending areas, and is in the process of surveying a further 6000 households in migrant-receiving areas.

Where possible in the survey, the household head and an adult of the other sex have been separately surveyed, giving rise to a significant data set. This illuminates gender differences in the causes, patterns and consequences of migration, and was highlighted by DECCMA during a webinar on “Gender roles in water scarcity-induced migration.”

The webinar took place as part of the GEF International Waters: LEARN project (gender sub-component), undertaken by UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Programme and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The aim of this project is to raise awareness of the importance of gender mainstreaming and how to do it in international waters project. They recently published a report on “Migration and its interdependencies with water scarcity, gender and youth“.

Bringing together research to inform disaster risk reduction in Bangladesh

by Saiful Alam, DECCMA Bangladesh RiU focal point, BUET

Ensuring university research feeds into policy and practice is key to reducing disaster risk reduction. DECCMA is building evidence on how climate change is affecting deltas, how people are adapting to these changes, and the role of migration.

In Bangladesh the Institute for Water and Flood Management (IWFM) at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology is participating in a platform to bring together research and knowledge generated by universities to strengthen capacity for improved water management and disaster risk reduction. This sits under the project “Research on Disaster Prevention / Mitigation measures against Flood and Storm Surges in Bangladesh” (SATREPS).

DECCMA BD workshop

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As part of its efforts to disseminate research findings, IWFM organized a University Networking workshop in August 2017 to present five training modules developed under the SATREPS project with the aim of building capacity at the field level. The five modules discussed topics relating to flood management and disaster risk reduction:

  1. Evolution of flood management policy and planning
  2. Evaluating resilience against flood disaster
  3. Learning from experience of NGOs in disaster management
  4. Review of measures for river flood management in Bangladesh
  5. Flash flood risk management using information and communication technologies in Bangladesh

The workshop was attended by researchers from 19 universities in Bangladesh and further afield. DECCMA Bangladesh PI, Prof. Munsur Rahman, outlined findings from DECCMA. He also called for joint action-oriented research with emphasis on governance to reduce disaster risk among vulnerable delta populations.

Following from this successful workshop, another will be planned to further disseminate DECCMA research findings on vulnerability hotspots and adaptation. This will likely take place at Potuakahi University of Science and Technology, and further details will be available on the DECCMA website when a date has been finalised.

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Migration and adaptation: a case study from the Khulna-Jessore region

by Nazia Bushra, Research Assistant, Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU)

Khulna stands on the banks of the Rupsha and the Bhairab rivers, located in southwest Bangladesh, and it is the geographical mid-point between the ports of Jessore and Mongla. It is also the second largest seaport of the country.

image001In the coming years, the Khulna-Jessore regions are going to become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Khulna is already prone to salinity intrusion and cyclones.  Less fresh water now flows in the adjacent rivers and saltwater intrudes here from the Bay of Bengal.  Also, the local shrimp aquaculture is affected by viruses and other harmful factors related to high salinity and the increase in water temperature.

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In the case of Jessore, the increased salinity, floods, and storms are all major drivers of human migration from this locale.  In order to obtain accurate data on the magnitude of migration and adaptation status of these two regions, we conducted a household survey of the 8 mouzas of these two cities. During the household listing survey, we found that people are suffering here from livelihood crises and related economic challenges. A large portion of household members that we interviewed were educated, which might explain their tendency to migrate to other regions and abroad.  However, some of them are adapting to the present situation by adopting new technologies.  They cultivate saline-resistant rice varieties (e.g. IRRI-11, 23, 54) and vegetables (e.g. water-melon, pumpkin etc.) but most cultivation takes place only during the rainy season; in dry season they usually buy vegetables and crops from neighbouring areas.

In Khulna, some of the most challenging environmental situations are found in Amurkata and Paikgachha. The communication system, mobile networks and food accessibility are all hampered by logistical issues.  Environmental problems such as salinity of drinking water, low diversity of crop varieties, waterlogging, and cyclone-induced tidal surges are pervasive in this area. Local NGO’s such as ASA, BRAC, JJS, NOBOJUG etc. are trying to provide fresh water to these areas and the government is also constructing some cyclone shelters. Because of the prevalence of cyclones, most of the houses are made up of mud and conventional golpata, and electricity is relatively scarce among these types of dwellings.

In Jessore, Bahadurpur village has two areas named Mathpara and Hotatpara which received many migrants from neighbouring areas during times of flood and other natural disasters. These displaced persons are economically vulnerable as they try to adapt to life here. They face unemployment, job insecurity and the lack of other basic facilities, such as a scarcity of clean water. The unhygienic sanitation conditions, combined with the other difficulties, have led to a high incidence of diseases.

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