Geohazards in Bangladesh
On Monday, we used the boats of the resort to go visit one of chars (islands) in the Brahmaputra. This char was right beneath the Jamuna Bridge. It was only a small sandy, unpopulated char when the bridge was built. However, the changes in currents due to the bridge helped the island to grow. Five to seven years ago people started moving to the island. Now there are a number of communities on the char. The newest one is in the eastern part of the island where it is growing. The char is moving, eroding on its western side and growing on the east. The “flooding” group immediately started interviewing the residents with the help of the Dhaka students, gathering information on their history of migration and their life on the char. All of them, were very
open and forthcoming. One of them apologizing that she was too poor to offer anything to our large group, but then her husband cut two papaya from the tree next to their house. We tried to refuse, but the next thing we knew, a platter of papaya was being passed around. One of their neighbors proudly insisted on showing me his 6’ x 12’ thatched home.
After the islands, during some free time, a group of students went into nearby Tangail to go shopping, returning with lungis and saris. We all wore then to the evening’s festivities. Under a tent, we feasted on BBQ fish, chicken and lamb while a musical group played both traditional Bengali music and contemporary pop. A strange setting to see everyone dancing to Lady Gaga.
The next morning, we hit the road again. Driving across multiple regions of Bangladesh, crossing the Ganges River and ending in Mongla at the edge of the Sundarbans. Traffic was light in the morning, but a stretch of bad road, a flat tire and traffic took its toll in the afternoon. We lost hours and finally reached Khulna to pick up the waiting Scott Nooner. More trouble with the tires led to us not getting to Mongla until after dark, without any time for visiting shrimp farms or the compaction site. We will have to do it all after the Sundarbans. A lesson in life in Bangladesh, always be prepared to adjust your schedule. Nothing ever going completely as you planned, but somehow it works out fine in the end. A land of improvisation and resiliency.
This semester I am doing something new – teaching a class. The course is in the Sustainable Development program and about the multitude of natural and human-induced hazards of Bangladesh. To help them truly understand what “Life on a Tectonically Active Delta” is like, I have brought them here for Spring Break. Now they will get to see for themselves the geology, environment and people of Bangladesh that they have been hearing about in class. This is a new experience for me, bringing 13 undergraduates and my TA for 10-day trip to the other side of the world, both literally and figuratively. Shepherding them around and being responsible for so many students, rather than a few colleagues and graduate students is a daunting task, and made possible only by the support of Dhaka University. With them, we will see Dhaka, including museums and Old Dhaka, the Brahmaputra River and its ever-changing islands, and the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.
We left on Thursday March 8. I have taken advantage of the large group to transport equipment to Bangladesh. Meeting up a JFK, Scott Nooner and I presented each of them with a box of equipment for Bangladesh and soon the 16 of us with 32 pieces of luggage were on our way. Arriving in Dhaka some 20 hours later at 4 AM on Saturday, our tired group headed to the new Hotel 71 (a tribute to Bangladeshi independence in 1971), stopping for a few sites along the way. After a break for breakfast and showers, we headed off to the Independence War museum where they saw graphic evidence of the events leading up to the bloody break from Pakistan at the cost of 3,000,000 lives. On a lighter note, we were met there by the 9 Dhaka University geology students who will be traveling with us. Then, we all went to the Dhaka University Geology department, my home base in Bangladesh. However, by the time we completed the introductions, and meetings and a visit to the Shahid Minar, we had no time for lunch. We had to get to the dock for our Buriganga river cruise through Dhaka traffic. We would have to settle for snacks on the way. To compensate, we moved up dinner earlier and our hungry group dived into their first Bangladeshi dinner while sailing down river into the wide Meghna River while watching the industrial development and endless brick factories slide by. A relaxing cruise was a great way to start introducing them to Bangladesh after an exhausting journey.
Today, we headed out of Dhaka for the Brahmaputra River, a good thing as a major opposition demonstration is planned for Monday. The 27 of us stopped along the way for the impressive 150 ft. tall National Memorial. Then continued on to lunch at the place we will be staying. There, we were joined by Chris Small, who had arrived earlier, and Hafiz Rahaman, the Khulna University student who works on the compaction meter we installed next to his parent’s home last year. Then across the Jamuna Bridge to Sirajganj, a town threatened by the westward migration of the Jamuna River, as the Brahmaputra is called here. On the spur of the moment, we hired a boat to take us along the embankment, where we could see the ongoing repairs of the collapses from last summer’s floods. Then we walked back, stopping for pictures of the mobs of kids, spontaneous dancing, and a little cricket as we became the highlight of the day. Overall, a great start with many new friendships blossoming between the CU and DU students.