People in the coastal area live a precarious life where sea cyclones is a constant threat to their existence. Back from southern coastal districts, our special correspondent gets his head around the struggles people living in small coastal islands put up as part of their survival.
They know nothing about the melting Arctic ice caps; neither have they heard about the rise in sea level; even Paris treaty doesn't ring any bell in their ears. All they know is that another moderate cyclone accompanied by few feet of extra tidal surge is soon going to repeat its onslaught and they are doomed forever as their lives simply revolves around such an ominous shadow of cyclones.
The people of Kamarkhola and Sutarkhali Union live in constant fear of cyclone, because the embankment that surrounds their tiny island is still under construction and it may crumble again at the hefty push of extra water. Cyclone Bulbul was a close call among the many frequent ones in the last few years.
"We can't afford another cyclone," said Baburam Mondol, "even a moderate one. It will send us back to square one, from where we have been trying to restore ourselves after the last storm, which left us completely battered, devastated, ruined."
Baburam was referring back to the devastations Sidr and Aila left in their wake. He is one of the several hundred people who have taken shelter in low makeshift embankments after losing their homes in the last two great cyclones – Sidr and Aila. The coastal island they live in is cut off from the mainland by four mighty rivers. It is in Dakope, a southern upazila of Khulna, at the mouth of the Sundarbans.
Less than a hundred kilometers apart, the people of Gabura, another island union, in the adjacent district of Sthakhira, were recovering from the rage of Bulbul, the November 9 cyclone. The pre-dawn storm had left a number of houses gutted and destroyed, big trees uprooted, but the newly rebuilt embankment was spared, thanks to the timing of the storm, which made landfall during ebb.
Two days back, when the people of this island were reminiscing to me the horrors of the last two cyclones, little did they know that another storm that was taking form was also heading towards them.
In the second week of November, I was travelling across the southern coastal districts to see if there were any remnants left of the mighty storms.
Today it is exactly 12 years since Sidr struck, the storm that changed the way people see natural disasters. It was the first wake-up call to come to terms with a new paradigm of natural calamities induced by global warming. After Sidr the link between climate change and cyclonic storms became obvious.
Dr Saleemul Huq, co-author of the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said taht researchers had revealed a direct link between the rising of sea temperature and the intensity of cyclonic storms.
Sidr which hit 30 coastal districts of Bangladesh was so intense that wind picked 260 kilometers per hour. It claimed 3,447 deaths according to official estimate, whereas some estimates put the number around 15,000.
"I haven't seen anything like it in my entire life," said Rafiqul Islam, a retired school teacher in Gabura. Sitting in a thatched tea stall, he was remembering the day Sidr hit the island.
"When it hit at night, the wind was wailing hellishly. Most of the trees in this island fell. When I woke up in the morning, I felt I have stepped into a war zone."
But for the Gabura people the devastation of Sidr was nothing compared to Aila, which came two years later. It created havoc as the tidal surge destroyed the embankment and washed the whole island away.
"When Aila happened," said Yasin Ali, a shopkeeper in Gabura, "the Wapda embankment was levelled as it was washed away with the rising water. The onrush of seawater was so overwhelming, his children slipped away from his grip. The next day their bodies were recovered from a paddy field."
It took three years for Gabura people to get rid of the saline water that inundated the crop fields, which enforced a change in the pattern of their cultivation permanently. The residents are still reeling under intense crisis of pure drinking water as they have to rely only on preserved rainwater and a number of ponds in the area.
Although two years apart, the people of this island can barely tell Sidr from Aila. For them it is the twin storms that caused untold miseries almost back to back.
The whole island is now left at the mercy of an embankment that encircles the area like a low wall. They call it 'Wapda Bandh', named after the long defunct Water and Power Development Authority, which built the embankment in the 60s. The department Water Development Board could not erase the old name.
"We know, there will be more storms coming and this feeble embankment can't shield us against them," said Wahab Mia, a young man in his 20s, while seeping tea sitting in a tea stall. Wahab earns his living from a motorcycle ride sharing – the only mode of transport in the island.
We were talking for few hours following the onslaught of Bulbul.
"All the large trees that we grew after Aila have fallen," Wahab said. "We have gone back to where we have started ten years ago. It can't go on like this forever. I want to quit this land and move somewhere far north."
After the great storms, a number of people have migrated from this island of roughly 48 thousand residents. According to official estimation, some 30 thousand people live here.
Elsewhere, in Dumuria, another upazila of Khulna, we found Animesh Dey, a farmer, standing motionless before his ruined papaya field. Cyclone Bulbul has devastated his field only few days before harvest.
"How can anyone live at the mercy of storms which strike you with such ferocity," lamented Animesh.
Several miles down the road, Anil Roy's family said they were contemplating moving out of the country for good. This family is now staying in makeshift arrangements on an embankment in an island of Dakope. Jaliakhali, the village they belonged to has gone under water when Aila destroyed the embankment.
When I asked Anil where his residence had been, he gestured towards a point somewhere in the middle of the mighty river.
Most of the village people had cultivable lands. Now they work in other people's farms as day labourers. They have become landless.
"After Sidr, near about 36,000 people migrated from Bagherhat, Pirojpur, Patuakhali, Barguna and Bhola," said Hasan Mehedi, chief executive of Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network. According to his estimates another four lack left Dakop, Koira, Paikgachha, Shyamnagar and Ashashuni area after Aila.