SURVIVAL STORY | Boldness of Laila Begum in surviving through the climate calamities in Mongla

Resilience and Survival in the Face of Climate Change: The Story of Laili Begum

“I have lost everything once in my life during AYLA and I have nothing to lose at the moment except my daughter and this piece of land” – Laili Begum,

On 12th September of 2023, on a sweltering summer day, we embarked on a field visit to the climate rehabilitation area known as ‘Guccho Gram’ in Mongla. This was part of the Youth Fellowship program, hosted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Our mission of the visit was to hear the stories of those who have faced disasters in this region. Mongla was chosen for its status as a climate-vulnerable coastal region, having endured numerous natural disasters over the years. Our key informant for this interview was Laili Begum, a resilient climate refugee who offered us a glimpse into her daily life. We sought to uncover the locally led initiatives that have helped the residents survive the unforgiving forces of nature.

As we approached Laili’s home, the first thing that caught my eye was an empty pitcher, locally known as ‘Maiyt’. Laila Begum uses the Maiyt to capture and store the rainwater and this is their own way of adaptation to the saline water.

Laili Begum and her daughter currently reside in a government provided rehabilitation area, allocated for climate refugees. Her journey to Mongla began 25 years ago, when she got married and made the decision to move there for better employment opportunities. However, their hope got shattered in natural disasters like Sidr and Ayla, and later her husband abandoned her. Unfortunately, the mother and daughter shared the same fate as her daughter’s husband also abandoned her after 2 years of marriage. From their point of view, the main reasons husbands abandon women like them is due to poor socio-economic conditions, rising poverty rates and natural disasters exacerbating their status.

Access to fresh water was always a crisis in Mongla. Laili added, “It was all jungle when I came here and my husband earned a decent wage, and we used to buy a jar of water for just 5 BDT, but now, 30-40 liters of water cost nearly 40 BDT, a price beyond our means”. Querying about the source of water, she pointed to a pond with greenish water. She collects water from there and, if they have enough fuel, they boil it. Otherwise, they just put alum to clear the water and make it drinkable.

Nearby, a navy camp has dug a pond and BRAC has installed a rainwater harvesting system, offering a more reliable water source during the dry monsoon, and providing each family with two buckets of water. Laili expressed her gratitude, stating, “I am fortunate to have only two family members, so it’s enough for us to survive for 2-3 days. Families with more members have to endure greater struggles, as they receive the same amount of water.” Laila also sold her hens and ducks saying, “We struggle to provide for ourselves, how can we afford to feed and treat them?”

She works as a helping hand in other people’s houses (middle class) and her daughter is unemployed. Even though Mongla is a port city, job opportunities, and income are limitedly accessible which hinders people like Laila to access clean drinking water at a greater price. During the rainy season, Laila’s sleep is affected throughout the night, as the roof of the house leaks continuously. During this situation, she spends her night placing buckets and jars on the floors to catch the dripping rainwater.

At last, Laili expressed her hopes for the future, saying, “I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I need a sturdy home with a strong roof that can withstand fierce winds and heavy rain, providing us with safety and access to clean drinking water.”

Laili Begum’s story offers a poignant glimpse into the daily battles faced by climate refugees in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Her determination to survive in the face of adversity, along with her desire for necessities, serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to provide adequate financing; capacity-building opportunities; and diversified livelihood opportunities to the ones who are hit hardest by the impacts of climate change.

Authors: Shimi Chak is working in Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Health (3CEH) as a research assistant, her research interest lies in social inclusion and locally led adaptation.