text: CHARLAND

 

“The land is breaking!” She pointed to the slice of mud on which we stood. “Do you see? Is it like this in foreign places? Just yesterday there was a piece of land here!” She laughed “In just two days, two hundred metres of our char has gone! We have nowhere to go, we are just waiting here. We are so afraid”

I was in charland, the constellation of fleeting, delicate islands scattered through Bangladesh’s expansive rivers. Bangladesh is a delta, its land continually carved and re-carved by a network of 200 coursing rivers. Chars are the delicate islands that emerge and disintegrate within these rivers. An estimated 5 million people live on the chars, they are some of Bangladesh’s most marginalised inhabitants.

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Annual flooding, occasional drought and recurrent erosion rob already indigent households of crops, livestock, homes and communities. Most of my informants had been forced to move char over 30 times. Yet all insisted they weren’t nomadic: “We try to look for stability” Muhammed told me, “I invest my future in this land, and I will continue to do so. Maybe tomorrow it will crumble and I will be left with nothing. But I will keep investing; no one can predict what will be stable”

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