Story written by ALRD as part of their report on the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change, Mr Ian Fry, in Bangladesh
Anondini Munda (she/her), along with many other women goes to the adjacent Chuna River to catch shrimp fries, a very common feature of Datinakhali village. They collect the fries early in the morning from five to nine a.m. though the fries of tiger prawns are not abundantly available as before. “It is very rare for the fry catchers to get plenty of to be sold to earn enough cash for our livelihood”, said Anondini.
Anondini Munda (34) is a mother of two children living in Datinakhali village under Shyamnagar Upazila (sub-district) of Satkhira district. Datinakhali, is a Munda indigenous village located alongside the high tidemarks of the Chuna River, the gateway to the mangrove forest Sundarbans2. This is her in-law’s village where she moved in after her marriage in 2004. Her parental home is in Koyra, a distant Upazila in Khulna. During the discussion with Anondini, eight other women were sitting around, have shared similar experiences.
Anondini Munda is an affiliated group member of World Vision3 and a community member of ALRD partner named “Sundarban Adivasi Munda Sangstha (SAMS). She has received a number of orientations on women’s rights and duties and participated in some decision-making processes on pertinent issues. Altogether, compared to other women, she stands out with more confidence and articulation in communicating messages. Anandini shared her experiences regarding the cyclone shelters including loss and damages from different natural disasters, “All the houses including mine collapsed during the strike of super cyclone Amphan(2009). The sheds of some houses had been blown away, and the mud walls of some houses had collapsed. Even then we did not go to the cyclone shelter. How do we leave elderly family members alone at home? They can’t walk long to reach the shelters which are around 3 kilometres away. It is overcrowded; sometimes people live together with livestock. It is better to stay at my own house”.
The husband of Anondini Munda works as a day labourer at the nearby shrimp and crab farms and earns 300 Takas (around 3 US dollars) per day though work is not available every day. Her family is mainly dependent on the subsistence-based resources of Sundarbans. During high tide,
the mangrove forest, Sundarbans, which gets inundated with saline water two times a day, is the home to different varieties of local fish, shrimp, and crab. They catch fish and collect firewood, honey, and shrimp fry from the canals and rivers of the Sundarbans. She said that taking credits from NGOs for buying boats, nets, etc. is a good opportunity for them. Anondini took a loan from a local NGO for repairing her house after the cyclone Amphan(2009) and paid the loan back within one year with weekly instalments. She added, “presently we hardly find fish in the rivers like in the past. The Forest department does not permit us to go to the Sundarbans regularly. Even there is no opportunity to do agricultural work as we don’t have land. Once upon a time, farmers used to grow enough paddies here. We had no shortage of rice then. But for the last 20-30 years, only tiger prawn has been cultivated”. Moreover, being adjacent to the Sundarbans, frequent cyclones and floods caused a breach in the dam, and the entire area gets flooded every year. Consequently, salinity has become permanent and no crops are grown in the unreceptive condition of the soil.
She said, “we also work equally with men both at home and outside. We catch fish and shrimp fries in the river and work in the local shrimp and crab farms as well. We play multiple roles such as food producers, collecting drinking water, caregiving to elderly people and children in the family and as economic actors. She added, “Since 2007, there have been some super cyclones including Sidor, Aila, Bulbul, Amphan, Yash, Nargis, and Mahasen that severely affected our lives, hampered our basic needs and natural resources and increased women’s workloads.” She recognized that working in the river for shrimp fry collection is the most heath-hazardous work. She suffers a lot with her sexual and reproductive health. Early menopause at the age of 34 led to other health problems like waist and knee pain hampered her daily life. She even cannot work hard like before. Carrying clean drinking water is another burden for her which has made her life more difficult.
Anondini Munda makes a living by extracting the forest and fishery resources of the Sundarbans. She is to survive by constantly fighting against the adverse effects of climate-induced natural disasters. It is the reality that the women of the coast are paying the highest for their survival due to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. During the storm, the women of the family stay till the end to save the last belongings of the house. The mother fights till her last breath to save the children from the tidal surge. Each year, the women of the coast are making new down stories about their existence.