Bangladesh's once welcome floods are now harbingers of disaster | Alex Renton

From Global development | The Guardian Wed Jan 23 2013, 07:00:01

Floodwaters that used to create fertile ground for rice crops have become violent and random - with catastrophic consequences

Majeda lays out the food that has to keep her and her two young children going for the next 10 days. It is an illustration of a life led close to disaster. There are a dozen potatoes, all of them covered in wormholes, a couple of kilos of low-quality rice, some withered aubergines and a few radishes. On a normal day, the family uses a kilo of rice, and Majeda is already skipping meals to keep the children fed. "There are times when my children cry because of hunger; I have to lie to them that food is coming soon," she says.

She is waiting, like so many in her community, beside the great Brahmaputra river, for her husband to come back with money. He left to seek work in the rice harvest. But because so many farmers lost their crops in the unseasonable floods that swept through the river plain in July and twice in September, labourer wages are down to virtually nothing, while the price of rice is up 30%.

Many people in Bangladesh depend on floods for their living. The annual wash of water down from the Himalayas brings layers of fresh mud, full of nutrients, and on this you can get a good rice crop. As the waters ebb, the seedlings are planted and they turn from green to golden as the dry season begins. But that system, of land, people and weather all in concert, has fallen apart.

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