The Munda people in Bhetkhali village survive on farming, fishing and laboring. Today, they are facing the worst weather crisis of their lives.  

For them, water is both a gift and a curse.  When it’s clean and safe, water means food, health and life. But in recent years heavy rain and flash flooding have become more frequent, destroying crops, roads and homes. The Munda people are struggling to survive.

Chronic pain from long, back breaking walks to collect clean water multiple times a day. Flimsy, flood-prone toilets that contaminate existing water sources. Diarrhea, skin lesions and hair loss from bathing in polluted water. These are all facts of life in Bhetkhali, Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, almost 4 million people don’t have access to clean water and 75 million don’t have a decent toilet. The climate crisis is making this situation worse.

Bhetkhali is a small coastal village located in the southwestern Bangladesh. Bhetkhali is a unique place to live, being surrounded by the Sundarbans – a World Heritage site with the largest unbroken mangrove forest in the world. But despite its beauty, life for people living in the shadows of the Sundarbans is difficult, and because of climate change, it’s only getting worse.

In Bhetkhali, the climate crisis has meant unpredictable, heavy floods that contaminate existing fresh water sources with sea water, pesticides from nearby fields, and human waste from overflowing outdoor toilets. Shorter rainy seasons that have dried up the last remaining water sources and reduced crop yields. And tropical cyclones are a constant, unpredictable threat, having already torn through the village on multiple occasions, damaging water sources, homes, and farmland. 

The people who call Bhetkhali home are facing the worst weather crises of their lives. Clean water has been the first thing to go, leaving the community struggling to survive.

With no safe water sources in the area, women from Bhetkhali are forced to walk eight hours a day to collect enough drinking water for their families.

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Meet Deben

This is Debendranath Munda, known as Deben.

Deben is a storyteller in his seventies. Over the years he's seen ponds dry up, farmland spoiled, roads disappear.

Image: WaterAid/Fabeha Monir

This is Debendranath Munda, known as Deben.

Deben is a storyteller in his seventies. Over the years he's seen ponds dry up, farmland spoiled, roads disappear.

Before cyclone Aila, he worked in the forest. He used to regularly encounter tigers, but now his biggest fear is the climate and water crisis.

The biggest issue that people in my community face is the lack of water. 

His one hope is that his children won't struggle like he did. But he's worried that, without solving the water and sanitation problems, things are only going to get worse.

Meet Shyamoli and her family

Shyamoli’s family has never known clean water. They are forced to drink, cook and wash with contaminated water and climate change is making it worse.

Image: WaterAid/Fabeha Monir

Shyamoli moved to Bhetkhali many years ago after she married her husband. She now lives in the village with him, their sons, and their sons’ families. Although she is happy to live in a close knit community, she and her family are struggling.

To conserve the limited supply of clean water that women collect, people’s only choice is to bathe in ponds contaminated with sea water. Bathing in these ponds causes health issues such as diarrhea, skin lesions and hair loss, but the people in Bhetkhali have no other choice.

Shyamoli and her family rely on cultivating rice to earn an income, which they supplement with fish farming. But, with continuously shorter rainy seasons and unpredictable floods and cyclones, it’s not enough to support her family.

The increase in salinity in the ponds people use for bathing in has lead to significant hair loss for many of the women. With the longer dry periods impacting rice cultivation, Shyamoli and other women from Bhetkhali have begun selling their hair to earn a small, extra income.

Ganga Debi Munda, 21, Bhetkhali, Satkhira, Bangladesh. June 2023.;
Image: WaterAid/Fabeha Monir

Ganga is Shyamoli’s daughter in-law, and moved to Bhetkhali to get married. Ganga gave birth to her first child a year and half ago but suffered severe complications during the birth. As a result, she still cannot do heavy lifting and is unable to work for long periods of time without resting. This makes collecting water nearly impossible for her, And the extreme heat has made a difficult situation even worse.

With your support, we can ensure Water Means Life for Ganga.

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Donate today

Donate today to help the Munda people survive the devastating floods and cyclones caused by climate change. We can't stop the weather but we can change its impact.

Riding bike
Image: WaterAid/Fabeha Monir