It turns out desperation does sell and lately flooding has brought exactly that to Bangladesh. As many of my American friends and family have pointed out in the past few days, Bangladesh is now finally making the headlines, both in America and around the globe. But it isn’t a story of joy or success that has brought it there. Floods, the worst in recent years, have gripped much of Bangladesh and are now encroaching on the capital city.
After a recent trip to Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, the images that have stayed in my mind are not the grandiose monuments to British colonialism (although those are certainly something to behold), but the brief glimpses of lives disrupted. The bus ride from Kolkata to Dhaka several days ago offered a surreal hint of the destruction that flooding can bring. Entire villages of huts along the roadside were submerged in several feet of water. Bridges were long ago overcome by the rising tide. Residents moved around in boats and rafts. Others crossed from high ground to the elevated road on makeshift bamboo bridges that seemed to hover precariously over the surface, sometimes dipping below the muddy water. But no matter how surreal the scene out that bus window was, the floods are also a jarring reality.
In the last 24 hours alone, at least 40 people in Bangladesh have reportedly died due to rising water and quickly subsiding rations of available clean water and food. Among the dead are many children whose lives were claimed by ailments as treatable as diarrhea. Without access to the saline, medicine, and clean food and water that I enjoyed only a week or two ago, the children perished of dehydration and related complications. Cholera and skin diseases are also feared as further shortages of clean food and water, combined with lack of sanitation facilities, will provide the perfect environment for the diseases to spread.
Amid it all, I can’t quite wrap my mind around what’s happening around me. Yes, I see it in the newspapers, I hear it on TV, I respond to the concerned emails of friends who are thinking of my safety, and I’ve even witnessed it as I peered out the bus window only a few short days ago. It may be the years of seeing flooding in Bangladesh in the news, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve been conditioned to accept the disaster as something less than reality. Catastrophes of this nature are portrayed as something that happens in the “third world” – not just one, but two whole worlds away from the safety of “first world” America.
But after gazing out that window of that bus at the inundated countryside, I am certain that there is no “third world.” There is one world and we all inhabit it. If you need to divide it into categories, there are just countries that have the resources and infrastructure they need and those that don’t. We need to start remembering before we flip the page of the newspaper or change the television channel, sighing about the misfortune of all those people who seem a world away – it is really not as far away as you’d think.
Posted By Caitlin Burnett
Posted Aug 6th, 2007