The Town of Naria is Falling Into the River

By Brian Oaster

Two thousand homes and 500 businesses have already fallen into the river. This is the situation faced by the town of Naria, on the banks of Bangladesh’s Padma river. Creeping river erosion is pushing the people of Naria into economic and emotional crisis.

One of the most recent buildings to collapse was the Duwell Medical Center, a multimillion dollar health care facility less than a decade old. Drone footage shows the medical center in its fullness. Early on August 14th the river approached the medical center and the main road began to crack. By 9:00 PM, the building was gone.

A Rapidly Collapsing Infrastructure

Video shot by a bystander shows before and after footage, and the meager pile of rubble where it stood before the Padma washed the ground out from under it. The half a million citizens served by the medical center are now living without access to health care.

Between July and August, river erosion has also destroyed significant portions of multiple marketplaces, including half of the Mulfatgonj Bazaar, depriving vendors of their livelihoods almost overnight. At least one school and a mosque are also among the buildings lost so far, with many more—including additional medical facilities—critically threatened by unchecked river erosion.

The River Is Also Claiming Lives

The Padma’s erratic expansion isn’t just claiming buildings—it’s claiming lives. At 2:00 PM on August 7th, a marketplace building collapsed and 29 people were washed into the river with it. While 19 were soon rescued by police and fire personnel, several went missing, and within a week at least one man was confirmed dead.

Climate Change is Worsening the Situation

“Climate change is a concern now affecting every one of us and Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable to its effects,” said a 2016 report by humanitarian aid organization BRAC. Two-thirds of Bangladesh is only slightly above sea level, leaving 27 million people exposed to the risks of rising sea levels.

The Padma is one of the main distributaries of the Ganges, and empties into the Bay of Bengal. Since 1966, the river has eaten away over 256 square miles of land in Bangladesh, an area comparable to the size of Chicago. Now, exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels, river erosion in Bangladesh is claiming 24,700 square acres of land each year. NASA satellite images show the Padma’s shapeshifting form over the past thirty years.

Much of the lost land across Bangladesh is agricultural. Farmland is shrinking nearly as fast as the national population is growing, effectively doubling the rate of food loss.

A Community in Need of Relief

Naria’s mayor, Shahidul Islam Babu, has said relief materials are on the way to disaster victims, according to the Dhaka Tribune. He has also blamed the disaster on the negligence of the Water Development Board.

Citizens of Naria, which is about 55 miles outside of Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, are calling for government officials to declare the area a disaster zone and begin building dams and embankments. Officials have promised the construction of a 9 km dam, which has not yet begun.

Brian Oaster

Brian is a Choctaw writer in the Pacific Northwest.