Residents of Kuakata are losing their lands and livelihoods due to climate change, but no visible steps have been taken yet to save them from further loss
It was high noon. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds in the sky of Lalua union in Patuakhali.
One moment it was sunlight and then it started drizzling suddenly.
Fisherman Raja Beda just returned from the sea. Tired, he sat on a broken dyke to rest for a while before going home. From there, he could see the vast sea and the estuary of the River Rabnabad.
The reckless wind made Raja's green gamchha (local cotton scarf) flutter like a flag.
While arranging it around his neck, he said, "Do you see that orange spot in the middle of the river? It was my first home. Back then, this river was like a canal. Now, it is more than eight miles in width. I lost over three acres of my land here and it made me shift my home four times."
Like Raja, many people are losing their lands due to coastal erosion. If this continues, Bangladesh may lose approximately 11% of its land by 2050, and one out of five people will be homeless either due to coastal erosion or submerged land.
In the book "Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change for Bangladesh", SM Rakibul Islam, Saleemul Huq, Anwar Ali have asserted that about 5,800 hectares of area along the shoreline will be lost in 2030.
"Such changes will not happen in one day. But it has partially started, and our land is being submerged a little more every year due to climate change," stated Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of non-governmental organisation COAST Trust.
The number of sufferers due to climate change is increasing. Many people are shifting their homes like Raja. Yet, their houses get submerged after every one or two months.
"Only my name Raja is left. Otherwise I am just a landless Raja [king] because of this erosion," he added with a weary smile.
The few people who can afford are abandoning their hometown and starting a new life elsewhere.
Here, life is expensive, and the coronavirus pandemic has made it more expensive. As the residents do not have land, they cannot even grow anything. They say buying everything like city people is their only option.
People who are living here are struggling every day. Saira Banu, 70, shared her painful story.
Fifteen years ago, she lost over five and a half acres of land along with her house to erosion. Her husband died 10 years ago.
"I do not have any shelter now. I am living with my daughter and son-in-law. Actually, when a person loses their land, they become valueless. I am nothing but a burden to others," she lamented.
A frail Saira's health is deteriorating day by day but there is no one to take care of her. She has been suffering from skin diseases and genital infections for years, but has chosen not to speak about this to anyone.
Diseases similar to that of Saira are rising at an alarming rate in this coastal area for the past few years, according to Dr Sagir Hossain, assistant community medical officer of Lalua.
"Using dirty water or being soaked in it all day is the reason behind such complications. Since the dyke broke, dirty saline water started to submerge homes and lands. In the beginning, the impact was not so acute, but now it is clearly visible," he commented.
Like Lalua, coastal erosion has equally affected Kuakata, a well-known tourist spot. Kuakata beach was 16 kilometres in length and three and a half kilometres in width. Now, its width has come down to 300-400 feet.
During last spring tide, around 25 feet stretch of the beach disappeared due to erosion. The huge green belt of coconut, palm and tamarisk garden around the beach is likely to disappear soon.
As the beach is losing its natural beauty, owners of local markets and hotels are worried that this will make them lose their livelihoods. Some people have already started to change their occupations as erosion is happening every year.
Rubel Shikder had a coffee shop near the beach. His coffee became so popular that he was named "Coffee Rubel".
But last year, he lost his shop and now he is a freelance photographer. He could not fully recover from the loss, but he is coping.
He badly misses his coffee shop days. He is planning to set up another coffee shop soon, but this time, it will be a makeshift one.
"I am a small businessman. I cannot risk losing my money again. I was thinking of leaving Kuakata, but then I thought I could try this for a while," Rubel said.
The hotel businessmen are in the worst situation and are living in uncertainty.
"The bitter truth is that no one is going to suffer like us. You will only lose a tourist spot but we will lose homes, lands, jobs – everything," said the manager of Kings Hotel.
A study by Nature Climate Change has stated the world will lose around half of its valuable sandy beaches by 2100 due to rising sea levels, and Kuakata beach is on its way to be lost.
Due to climate change, the earth's oceans have already risen by about 20cm since the late 19th century.
According to a research by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the sea level could rise by 85-140 centimetres by 2100. But it is an average prediction as situations will vary from area to area.