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Floods in Bangladesh cause death and destruction in Sylhet

PEKERKHAL, Bangladesh — Rohima Begum was cooking breakfast last week when floodwaters poured into her tin and bamboo house and started running across the ground.

Mrs. Begum, her three children and her mother made a quick escape in a small boat. When they looked back, the house and their possessions had been swept away.

“I’m going through a tough time here and I don’t know what’s coming next,” Ms Begum, 28, said this week at a school building in Bangladesh’s landlocked northeast, where hundreds of flood victims have taken refuge. .

The Asia-Pacific region is used to occasional flooding. In Bangladesh and elsewhere, the rhythms of local life have adapted over centuries to the annual monsoon which typically runs from June to September and provides the water farmers need to grow rice, a staple food. in numerous countries.

But this year the rains have been particularly heavy, a stark reminder that climate change is driving more extreme weather around the world. In China, where recent flooding has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, state media reported this week that water levels had exceeded flood levels in more than 100 rivers. In Bangladesh and northern India, recent floods have washed away towns and train stations, killing dozens and displacing millions more.

As of Friday, at least 68 people in Bangladesh had died since mid-May from flood-related causes, including drowning, electrocution and landslides, according to government data. More than 4,000 people have been infected with waterborne diseases. Crops were devastated.

The northeast, a region that produces most of the rice for a country of around 170 million people, has been particularly hard hit. At least 384,000 people have been displaced in Ms Begum’s home region of Sylhet, one of six in the northeast, said Mosharraf Hossain, the divisional commissioner.

“Every property in Bangladesh is populated, and this whole area is under water,” said Sheldon Yett, the UN Children’s Fund representative in the country, referring to the northeast.

As rescues continue, an immediate concern is that waterborne diseases will affect more people, Mr Yett said, adding that he had already seen an increase in reported cases of diarrhoea. Although the latest rains have diminished, he noted, more forecasts are expected for the days and weeks to come.

“Prolonged climate change emergencies don’t always make the headlines and because of that, they sometimes disappear under the waves,” he added. “In Bangladesh, it’s figurative as well as literal.”

Linking climate change to a single flood requires careful scientific analysis. But climate change, which is already causing heavier rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix. A warmer atmosphere retains and releases more water.

Scientists have determined that global warming is making the record rainfall that caused devastating floods in Germany and Belgium much more likely last summer. In South Asia, recent research has bolstered the theory that climate change is disrupting the annual monsoon.

India and Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are located near the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. In 2020, torrential rains left at least a quarter of Bangladesh submerged. Last year, extreme rainfall and landslides swept away a vast Rohingya refugee camp overnight.

“Now we are past the phase of asking whether each of these extreme weather events is due to climate change,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. “The question has become stale and a frequent distraction from working towards climate solutions.”

Abdus Sattar, 70, a former mayor of a village in northeast Bangladesh, is not a climatologist. But he had no trouble putting the scale of the recent floods into historical context.

“I have never seen a flood like this,” said Mr Sattar, who had taken refuge in the same converted school building as Ms Begum on Thursday. “My father told me many stories of their struggles, but he never told me about anything like this flood. This ruined many villagers.

Mrs. Begum, her mother and three children, aged 4 to 10, fled to the school in Pekerkhal after their house was swept away on 17 June. Her husband has been in Saudi Arabia for six months, looking for a construction job.

Their school shelter, which is in a submerged area accessible only by boat, has one toilet for about 190 families. Sacks of rice brought by some flood victims made it even more crowded.

When she arrived, Mrs. Begum had no groceries because she had left her home in a hurry. Initially, her family had to drink the flood water, she said. They also didn’t eat for two days, until another family shared a meal with them.

They now have a small stock of rice, sugar and bottled water provided by aid workers, Ms Begum said. But her children are still crying.

“My mother says I’m a beautiful woman,” she says. “But last week I got ugly.”

Saif Hasnat reported from Pekerkhal, Bangladesh, and Mike Ives from Seoul.

nytimes Gt

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