Job losses, flooding spark fears of hard times ahead

In April as the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mohammad Sumon returned to his village in Jamalpur, about 160 kms away from the capital Dhaka after losing his job at a garment factory, hoping to support his family working as a part-time mechanic.

But severe floods that struck Bangladesh the last week of June, driven by heavy monsoon rains, are now keeping the 22-year-old from that work as well.

In this 15th April file photo, garment workers shout slogans as they block a road demanding their due wages during the lockdown amid concerns over the coronavirus disease outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh. PICTURE: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File photo.

Instead, he finds himself stuck at home, one of millions of Bangladeshis affected by the flooding, which has hit nearly half of the country’s 64 districts and killed 41 people so far.

“My wife and I lost our jobs because the factory said they weren’t getting orders due to the coronavirus,” Sumon said.

“At my hometown I managed a job as a mechanic but that did not work because the water had risen and I couldn’t step out,” he said.

Now, with a baby daughter born just nine days ago, “I don’t know how we will manage. I am depending on a loan right now, but if things continue like this, we will be in trouble,” he said.

Low-lying, heavily populated Bangladesh is regularly hit by flooding, but experts fear the impact this year may be worse due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and floods that have lingered for an unusually long time.

Thousands of workers have been sacked from the country’s garment sector – responsible for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports – as European brands cancelled clothing orders worth millions of dollars as their shops shut due to the coronavirus.

Bangladesh, one of the biggest exporters of manpower in the world and heavily dependent on remittance, has also seen the return of thousands of its citizens from abroad as many lose their jobs in the pandemic.

In Bangladesh itself, more than 238,000 people have contracted the virus, and more than 3,100 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Flooding has only made matters worse, government and other experts said.

“Normally, the water begins to recede after a certain point and people start going back to their homes from flood shelters,” said Sajedul Hasan, who works for the humanitarian programme of BRAC, a Bangladesh-based development organisation.

“But this time, the water level increased for a second time in July soon after it began to recede…this was because of excessive rainfall,” he explained.

A major Bangladeshi river, the Jamuna, has been flowing above the danger level for more than 30 days according to data from Bahadurabad station in north Bangladesh.

“This is the highest number of days that we have seen since 1998,” said AKM Saiful Islam, of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

According to the country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, the water level is now receding and the situation is likely to improve by next month.

But both Islam and Hasan fear that economic hardships due to the pandemic and floods may lead more students to drop out of school, or compel families to migrate to the country’s overburdened cities for jobs, which could lead to exploitation.

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said he could see the “fingerprint” of climate change in the recent floods.

The country used to see severe floods once every two decades – but in the last 20 years Bangladesh has seen at least four of them, Huq said.

The country now needs to try new strategies to be more prepared to tackle the changes, he said.

One of those, implemented by the United Nations in Bangladesh, is forecast-based funding which gives vulnerable people money in advance of predicted extreme weather so they are better prepared.

Aklima Begum, 40, who lives in Kurigram in North Bangladesh, was one of thousands who received about $US50 ahead of the floods this year. She was able to buy food, hire a boat and take shelter in a place the floodwaters didn’t reach.

“The money that I got did help, but I have still been badly affected. My goats and chickens died because of the flood,” she said.

(NAIMUL KARIM , Dhaka, Bangladesh. Thomson Reuters Foundation)




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