As Storm Ciara flooded homes and brought down trees and electricity lines over the weekend, thousands of people across the UK have been brought face to face with the climate crisis.
With flood warnings still in place across the country and more bad weather on its way, I was reminded about a mother I recently met in Bangladesh. She had told me about the terrible impact the climate emergency was already wreaking on her life.
“I woke up and he was not breathing,” Lipi told me. “And he was under the water.”
One particularly stormy night, the river near Lipi’s home ran so fast and rose so high it nearly dragged her 18-month-old son away.
“In the dark, when we were sleeping, the water must have come into our home. I felt in the water with my hands to grab him and I lifted him up out of the water.”
Lipi’s home was on the front-line of climate change. Along the southern coast of Bangladesh – one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world – extreme events, such as cyclones, floods and droughts, are becoming more frequent. They are also increasing in severity.
Thankfully, Lipi’s son survived. But when I spoke to her last October, the question still remained: “How can I survive and help save my family?”
Continued flooding forced Lipi to leave her home and livelihood behind. Sadly, she is not alone. Lipi is just one of the 26 million people who flee their homes every year due to climate-related disasters. Of those 26 million people, 80 per cent are women.
And after Storm Ciara you might know some of those 26 million people. Perhaps they are your family, friends or neighbours.
A report released last week by The Climate Coalition – of which CAFOD is a member – revealed the number of people in the UK facing floods during the winter is more than the population of Birmingham and Manchester combined. The report also found that the likelihood of extreme rainfall happening in the UK has increased by approximately 40 per cent because of climate change.
Lipi told me her story.
She became a mother at the age of 18. A few years later, she gave birth to her second child. Soon after that, while she was still breastfeeding her second child, her husband left her. He did not return. As a single mother to two young children, Lipi found living in Bangladesh extremely difficult. She had little support and faced many challenges. She told me that one of the greatest challenges, however, was climate change.
“I used to have a home, but the climate meant I had no choice but to move.”
Lipi’s previous home was once a safe place for her and her family. She used to go fishing and provide food for herself and her two sons. But, as time passed, the weather became more extreme and the water level began to rise. The community tried to stop the floods by placing sand bags along the riverbank. It was not enough. Eventually, the flooding became too frequent and there was nothing more to be done.
“My home would be flooded every day during high tide. The water would rise into my home and through the front door. I could not manage, as all my plates, glasses, cutlery, would wash away in the water.”
Lipi was left with nothing.
She has lived with this constant uncertainty and environmental instability for ten years, never knowing if her children will make it through the night. In order to find a safe place to live, she had no choice but to move away from her family home. Against her best wishes, Lipi travelled further inland. She is now staying with a friend.
But Lipi’s problems are not over.
“Now, when it is full tide, there are no fish in the river, so it is hard to survive.”
Every day, Lipi struggles to feed her family due to changes in the environment.
“If we manage to catch one fish per day, then we are able to eat. But, if we cannot, then we barely have food to sustain ourselves.”
With perpetual, unforgiving floods, thousands of people are living like Lipi across Bangladesh. They are forced to leave their homes, their lands; they are unable to find fish in the churned-up rivers; they are unable to grow crops and vegetables in the ruined earth; they are unable to feed their families.
Lipi’s hope for the future is simple. She just wants her family to be safe and for her children to have food to grow and eat. That’s why CAFOD is working with local experts to help people like Lipi become more resilient to the changing weather.
Through climate-friendly farming techniques, Lipi will learn how to grow her own vegetables and raise livestock, without harming the environment further. Technical training will also be given to women in her community so they can learn alternative ways of making a living that aren’t solely reliant on the use of the land.
Climate change is a social injustice. Those who are most impacted by climate change, those who are hit first and hardest by extreme weather, are those that have contributed least to the problem.
It is fundamentally unfair that women like Lipi should suffer.
So we must try to halt this climate emergency.
The damage caused by Storm Ciara and flooding affecting Lipi in Bangladesh mean we must take action now.Our government needs to urgently act to tackle climate change, not only to protect future generations but to help safeguard our lives, homes and businesses today.
- Join us in our campaign to hold the UK government to account. Make your voice heard and put an end to climate change atcafod.org.uk/campaign.
Chloe Sideserf works in the Asia Programme team at aid agency CAFOD and has heard first-hand what the climate emergency means for the millions of people whose lives are at risk from flooding caused by the climate emergency. Chloe Sideserf is the Regional Support Officer for Asia and the Middle East at CAFOD. She has also worked in CAFOD’s campaigns and policy team. She visited Bangladesh in October 2019 to meet local organisations CAFOD works with who are supporting communities affected by the climate crisis.