Rivers of Life

Posted: 18 January 2001

Author: Kelly Haggart
Panos/BCAS, London and Dhaka, 1994
Special offer price £5.00 (through Panos)

Bangladesh is criss-crossed by more than 200 rivers, which are the lifeblood of its fertile delta and rich culture. Monsoon-season floods normally cover a third of the country in water, bringing invaluable benefits for agriculture, fishing and navigation.

coverBut in abnormal years, floods bring disaster. The World Bank-coordinated Flood Action Plan was launched by 15 donor countries and agencies after unusually severe floods in 1987 and 1988. Supporters insist the scheme will tame the country's volatile rivers, saving lives and dramatically boosting food production. Critics warn that the proposed river embankments and other engineering works could cause irreparable damage to the environment, displace millions of the country's poorest people and actually increase the danger of catastrophic flooding.

Largely missing from the debates are the views of the farmers, fishermen, women and landless poor who have the best first-hand knowledge of floods. To help fill this gap, the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the London-based Panos Institute asked a group of Bangladeshi journalists to take an independent look at existing flood-control projects and the potential impact of new ones.

As well as interviewing experts and officials in Dhaka, the authors travelled widely to talk to villagers. Their accounts provide moving testimony to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who have borne the brunt of past mistakes in the water sector, but whose voices are rarely heard.