During July, August and September 1998, Bangladesh was subjected to the most extensive flood in living memory. At peak flood, approximately two-thirds of the country was under water. The media showed submerged houses, drowned livestock, and women and children wading neck deep in water carrying water jars or food on their heads. Such images reinforce many people's perceptions of Bangladesh as a country incessantly subjected to devastating floods that destroy crops and cause untold misery to the nation's people. Yet, beyond this media-generated view, there is a country where agricultural production is still the mainstay of the rural population's livelihood system. The nation's water resources, both above and below ground, provide a multitude of services to the population: water to drink and in which to bathe, fish to eat and water to irrigate crops. This paper outlines the local-level research indicating that most rural Bangladeshis living on the central Bangladesh floodplain, view the annual monsoon flood season not as an inconvenience but as a necessity. It suggests that many people in the research areas recognize the benefits associated with extreme flood events. The 1998 flood provided plentiful amounts of fish, a staple diet and labouring work in the form of building up flood defences. It also flushed out stagnant water in ponds and pagars (open system ponds), and in time, led to a bumper harvest of rice. The research highlights the lives of those whose livelihoods are devastated by such events, describes the nature of the monsoon of 1998, analyses the effects on the community's livelihood systems and describes the nature of their coping strategies. It also suggests ways in which the government and aid agencies could better assist those whose livelihoods are most vulnerable.
M. T. Chadwick, J. G. Soussan, T. C. Martin, D. Mallick, S. S. Alam. Bank robbers: The real losers in the 1998 Bangladesh flood. Land Degradation and Development (2001) 12 (3) 251-260. [DOI: 10.1002/ldr.437]