Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Formal: summary of research

We have been in Bangladesh for almost two weeks now. During the first week, we made a lot of contacts in Dhaka, the capital city. We tried to use our time there to get as much information from earlier researches as possible. Through discussions with experienced people from various fields, we were able to construct a framework and get a lot of inputs. After the first week, we moved to Chittagong, the second city of Bangladesh. It is a harbour city of four milion inhabitants, and the economic heart of the country. We continued to expand our contact list, but also did our first two field researches.

For the first field research, we moved to the more "rural" areas (still densely populated between Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. We also visited Mognama, one of the most effected cities during the 1991 Gorky cyclone. There were a lot of cyclone shelters. We had the chance to visit some of them, and were also able to talk with locals in Mognama (informal in-depth interview). For the second field trip we were guided into some of the slum areas of Chittagong. The inhabitants of these areas were often displaced people due to one of the disasters in the country. The poeople were very friendly and willing to talk.

The discussions and field trips have shaped our way of thinking about the issue of natural disasters in Bangladesh. We are now in the process of writing down all the ideas we have, without linking them just yet. Some of the most interesting leads we have are:

The lack of shelters for possessions: people can be saved by making cyclone shelters for them to hide during the storm. However, their livelihoods rely heavily on the possessions the people have. These include: their crops, livestock, working tools, materials, etc. In the cities, people are reluctant to move to cyclones since they are afraid their possessions might be stolen. In more rural areas, people fear that they will lose their livestock and crops. For the last category, so called "killas" can be constructed. These are six meter high hills where livestock can stay relatively safe.

The scarcity of land: there is a scarcity of land, even in more rural areas. The land has been divided by among the growing amount of family members. This means that people rely on small patches of land. Small farmers have a hard time making a living. As a result, they are under constant pressure to sell their land to other land owners. When they do sell their land, the family will move illegally to government owned land outside of the river embankments (dangerous), or move to the city and live in informal settlements. We will be researching this migration in the coming weeks.

River erosion: one of the big issues in Bangladesh is river erosion. Rivers tend to constantly be on the move. Agricultural land and dwellings are being consumed by the delta rivers. This is another reason for the migrations as described above. There are several reasons for these river problems. Upstream there is a dam in India controlling the water inflow, and India is preparing to build another dam as we speak. Mangroves protect the coastal zone near the Sundarbans, but these mangroves are lacking in the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal. There are projects to plant mangrove forests there.

Linear cities: cities in Bangladesh tend to grow in a linear way along the major infrastructure connections. This seems to be an unplanned consequence. These roads are very lively, making them ideal places for small shops and industries. Also, the roads are often built on embankments (raised land to protect from flooding). The land is therefore more safe to build as it is higher. These roads have a very urban feel to them. But as soon as one takes a side street, the urbanity changes into a form of rurality. Encapsuled within the main infrastructure are the agriculture lands. This is why the rural areas can hardly be called rural. The urban and rural are intertwined, both spatially and culturally.

Holy water: in the Netherlands we now see a tendency to move away from only blocking the water from the land. Rising dykes, and poldering land may not be permanent solutions to the problem of water quantity. In Bangladesh, however, people have lived with water for a long time. They rely on the land to be flooded. This makes their land so extremely fertile. At the moment, however, there is a tendency to rise the embankments and "take control over the land". There is an apparent conflict between the need for the water, and the fear for the water. How can Bangladesh cope with this paradox?

There are many more interesting leads, or "fishes" as we call them (see our previous powerpoint presentations). We will be looking into these and post a summary of our main findings as much as we can. Feel free to comment or start a discussion!


  1. Big differences in EL S, although the combination of scarcity of land and river erosion will be topics in our study as well. The erosion within little valleys is a lot slower then in Bangladesh and after people lose their dwellings they intend to prepare the same land and build up their lives again. There is no constant moving, but just a yearly repetitive threat

    Keep in touch, mucho suerte!

  2. Ola Chicos,

    Like your fishes... Especially the kind of hint in the topics of (scarcity of land, and river erosion) seem to give, of being an amplified relationship between a changing climate, and rapid population growth. Seems that if things (as they seem they will) keep going this way, sadly, your research can become very relevant and useful in the near future. Good luck.