On tides of climate change, adaptability buoys hope

Water is never in balance in Bangladesh, where rivers flowing from the Himalayas converge in the world’s largest delta. That makes children like 11-year-old Lamia Akter among the world’s most vulnerable in the face of climate change.  

But she’s also a climate adapter.

Down an alleyway no wider than 3 feet, in one of Dhaka’s thousands of teeming informal settlements, is a bright little schoolroom filled with tiny wooden tables.

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In Bangladesh, on the world’s largest delta, the effects of climate change determine where children live, how long they study, and when they will marry. Resilience is their hope.

When the teacher asks the students – ages 8 to 14 – if they know what climate change is, Lamia is too timid to answer. So she lets other small voices blurt out: “Floods!” “Cyclones!” But – as one of an estimated 2,000 climate migrants arriving in this capital city every day – she knows the answer better than anyone. Her family home on the northern flood plains of Kishoreganj was washed away last year, forcing them to move here.

Now, her mother works in a garment factory; her father, once a rice farmer, drives a rickshaw. Back home, where their view looked onto cultivated paddies, annual monsoon floods are commonplace. But flash floods last year, part of a trend of storms bigger and fiercer than the seasonal norm, wiped away their home – a plight thousands of Bangladeshis face amid Himalayan glacier melt, rising sea levels, river erosion, and more erratic rains. 

Life is harder now, explains her mother, Shirin Begum, at their Dhaka home. It’s a sweltering single room of corrugated metal, drab save the meticulous line of bright salwar kameez outfits hanging from ropes strung across the walls.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

An estimated 2,000 climate migrants move to Dhaka, Bangladesh, every day, piling into informal settlements like Korail, in the foreground of the cityscape of Dhaka.

But climate migration has offered an opportunity to her daughter, too.