Facing the Rising Tide: Dhalchar At Risk

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Photography & Original text: Din Muhammad Shibly
Translated by Maruf Billah Tanmoy

Dhalchar, formerly known as Char Shatyen, is a remote and isolated island in the Bay of Bengal and located in the Char Fashion upazila of Bhola district. As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, the island on the bay is constantly exposed to rising sea levels and climate change. The island faces a threat of extinction due to severe erosion of its landmass that began since 1990. The rise of a new island to Dhalchar’s north has aggravated matters in recent times as all three of the island’s primary schools were washed away in the River Meghna due to erosion. The photo story depicts the state of land erosion Dhalchar has experienced in the last 15 years which is also a reflection of the state of other neighboring islands. 

Md Azhar Uddin, better known as Azhar Master, is 57 years old and headmaster of Dhalchar Government Primary School. He took charge of the school founded by his father in 1976 and continues to serve the school. This school is the only means of delivering education in remote areas such as Dhalchar for the last 42 years. After the schools were washed away, Azhar Master and the school staff took refuge at a cyclone shelter built by Action Aid.

There were around 250 families living on the island by 1976. In the 1990s, around 1930 families were listed as residents of the island. Although the island was gradually growing into a township, it was always marred by cyclones and land erosion. Almost all 65 families residing on the island were washed away in the cyclone of 1970. Only 40 people managed to survive the disaster as they had managed to go to the island’s lone cyclone-shelter at that time. In 1985, another devastating cyclone occurred which caused immense damage to the entire island. 109 people died in the cyclone that occurred in 1991 and only 71 of the bodies were found.

Although cyclones like Aila and Sidr did not cause much damage to the island after 1991, the island became extremely vulnerable to erosion in the last few decades and many families left the populous island and settled in nearby Char Manika, Char kocchopiapiya, Char Letra, Char Aicha, Char Kolatoli and Char Mojammel and others.

Although erosion initially began in the east, it later picked up the pace to the north of the island when a new island emerged there. Water from the river Meghna hit the new island and lashes on the east of Dhalchar more fiercely than before. This has caused the island’s large marketplace, a few villages, all forest department offices, the schools and the guest house to be lost to the river. A total of four wards were washed away by the river. Only a third of the island remains above the water now.

Bangladesh is ground zero for climate change. We cannot change the practices of the world but we can create solutions for those who are the most affected by it.  

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