Sep 10, 2020 5 min read

Vanishing people

Vanishing people
Hashem Kazi (65), standing on his last piece of land since the Mighty Padma has started to devour it furiously. He dismantled the house in a nearby open space, but he couldn't leave his pigeons. He comes to this piece of land to feed these birds. He knows this will go for sure. But, before it's consumed by the river, he will visit every day. Photo: Sohan Rahat

Sohan Rahat travelled to the Naria region of Bangladesh to document the lives of people living next to the eroding banks of the river Padma. This photo essay is part of an ongoing project to portray the shifting landscape of climate refugees.

The story starts with the victims of river erosion. According to NASA, the mighty Padma river has devoured more than 66,000 hectares of land since 1967.

Though river erosion has been a very common event in this delta region, nothing compares to what we witnessed at Naria in the year of 2018. This was the single worst case of river bank erosion in one hundred years.

People who were living close by the bank abandoned their houses, and villages emptied out of fear

Padma furiously devoured almost 35km of land downstream within a couple of weeks. This tragic incident left about 5,000 families homeless, losing everything overnight. People who were living close by the bank abandoned their houses, and villages emptied out of fear.

The area saw multi-story buildings collapse in seconds, allowing people to get out of their homes with only a handful of possessions. Mosques, shrines, temples, and graveyards were all destroyed within a couple of weeks.

Village after village was left with empty houses, as people abandoned them for life. Entire structures were sold for others to breakdown and take away for free. As well as the structures, people sold their trees.

Before the final piece of land was gone, mass deforestation went underway in the area. Many houses, a hundred year old bazar, a bridge, multiple schools, and a health complex all went under the mighty Padma.

Remains of a bridge at Naria bazar after the major portion washed away. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Remains of Naria primary school gone under the mighty river Padma. Raihan (12) was not a student of this school, but he misses his friends who used to be in this school and left the area as their houses went under Padma. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Sumon sitting on his dismantled house for the last evening. They sold the structure of their house at minimal price before it was washed away by Padma. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Abandoned house going under. People sold their house structures to reduce their loss as much as possible. A massive deconstruction of houses went underway in the whole area. Photo: Sohan Rahat
The only government health complex collapsed on the 2nd day of the tragedy. The entire population of the area was cut off from the government healthcare facility. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Workers worked continuously to dismantle house remains and save as much as possible before the final hit. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Mass deforestation went underway as soon as the river started to devour furiously. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Hena Rani Das and Bela Rani Das have been sister in laws for the last 40 years. Standing on the last piece of land that belongs to the memories of their husbands. Photo: Sohan Rahat

Hena Rani Das recalled her early days as a young bride in this house. "I came before Bela in this house. We have good and bad memories here, but none are left now. Our husbands have been dead for years. Kids are grown up and they have their own families. They don't stay here anymore."

“We took refuge in a nearby garden, but spent most of our time here during the daylight.”

“Just in case...” she added.

A family dismantled their house and kept it in a field far from the river bank. They have lived in such condition since then. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Remains of the abandoned houses on the river bank. Photo: Sohan Rahat
A man standing on the front door of his dismantled house with his niece. His niece was born in that house. He wanted to have a memory with his house, for the last time. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Standing on the ruin of an unknown abandoned house, a boy from the nearby area came to see how river erosion takes place. Photo: Sohan Rahat
A devotee dismantled the temple and kept the goddess by the river bank. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Last remains of the Shrine of Gazi Kalu. Local people believed the shrine was a sacred place and people prayed there to be saved from the erosion. But the irony is that nothing was left behind. The shrine collapsed within a week of this photo being taken. Photo: Sohan Rahat
A boy visiting the abandoned area one afternoon. I asked if it was his house. He said no but he knew the people who used to live there. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Another devotee of the shrine in tears as nothing was stopping the river to devour whatever came in her way. Photo: Sohan Rahat
The river infiltrated slowly into a nearby land where people had already dismantled their house remains. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Probably the last evening that Motalib Hossain (62) came to visit his house with his son. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Special prayer going on in the shrine. Asking the divine for mercy from the river. Photo: Sohan Rahat
Hasia Begum left the site of her great-grandfather in law's grave, probably for the very last time. Photo: Sohan Rahat

I saw mourning deeper than the river itself in her eyes when I approached her. She refused to talk at first, but later she said this is the last sign of her in law's home. Recalling the early days when she came here as a young bride. All are going to rest in her pensive memories.

All lies beneath the mighty Padma.

Sohan Rahat
Sohan Rahat
Sohan is a Bangladeshi documentary photographer, producer and writer. He is interested in climate change and migration.
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