Documenting the Effects of Climate Change in Bangladesh

BRICKS speaks to Bangladeshi photojournalist, Probal Rashid who works and lives in the country documenting the haunting impact climate change has on the country's population.

Words by Ashleigh Kane & Tori West

Due to its geographical location, high population and low lying land, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impact of climate change. Regular storm surges, flash floods, extreme temperatures and drought displace thousands every year and the number of ‘climate change refugees’ are expected to rise dramatically over the upcoming decades.

To find out more, BRICKS spoke to Bangladeshi photojournalist, Probal Rashid who works and lives in the country documenting the haunting impact climate change has on the country’s population.

What is it like working and living in Bangladesh?

Where I’m from, adopting a creative process like photography as a profession is difficult. I don’t have a bank balance or paternal property that I can depend on for my livelihood, survival is my biggest challenge. My spirit forces me to move forward. Photojournalism is very much competitive but there are some opportunities to get your work published with thanks to the internet and magazines like BRICKS.

Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and displacing citizens, what do people need to know about climate refugees?

The idea of photographing climatic change came about when I visited Satkhira, in the Southern Division of Bangladesh; to cover the flood affected areas in 2011. Villagers in this area have suffered from one disaster after another. Each year, people have to live in rehabilitation camps or temporary housing for 4 to 5 months during the monsoon season. I visited the area again in 2012 and realised there was an urgency to document the effects of climate change. A large number of homeless people in Dhaka have lost their homes and properties through floods, river erosion and other natural calamities. They come to the city in the hope of a better future. They have no place to hold themselves.

What message are you hoping to communicate?

Photojournalism is a powerful tool that can inform and challenge its audience on a personal, intimate level. Photographs can raise direct action by passionate and committed individuals as well as governments, policy-makers, groups and organizations. My work describes the present problems in Bangladesh but also warn us of future problems before it’s too late. This series casts its gaze on the devastating effects that raising sea levels will have on the world’s coastal inhabitants.

What are your favourite images?

15-year-old mother Rani Begum was married at the age of 12. The natural disasters in the country combined with poverty and the lack of an adequate government safety net can drive young women towards early marriage.

A diarrhea patient Md. Abdullah (15) of Munsiganj, Satkhira is being carried to hospital by ambulance on August 29, 2015. Waterborne diseases like diarrhea and dysentery are very common in the coastal areas like Satkhira as the inhabitants have gravely been suffered for acute crisis of pure drinking water. Frequency and extent hazards like cyclones, storm surges, droughts sea level rises put 63 million children in social and physical vulnerability in Bangladesh.
Rizia (40), her husband Mazed Gain was killed by a tiger on 17 October in 2012 when he was catching fish near Sundarbans forest in Satkhira. Regardless of the common threat, thousands of men and women go into the Sundarbans forest every day to gather honey, firewood or to fish. Women who have lost their husbands to a tiger attack are referred to as a “Bagh Bidhoba” which translates to “Tiger Widow”. Gabura is one of the villages of Satkhira district where most of the Tiger Widows live.

In your opinion, what more could be done to help reduce the challenges currently faced by the people of Bangladesh?

We need to bring global warming under control by reducing the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Our individual efforts are especially significant in countries such as the US and Canada, where individuals release over 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person every year. By becoming more energy efficient, reducing our use of oil, gasoline and coal sets an example for others to follow.

What is the government’s response?

The Bangladesh Government has invested billions in adaptation measures such as flood management schemes, coastal embankments, cyclone shelters and others. However, the journey is far from being over.

What motivates you to continue taking pictures?

The satisfaction of knowing there are people who appreciate my images, the feedback I receive keeps me going. But most of all, I am motivated by my way of documenting the people and things that I’ve encountered.