Daily Picture Show

Bangladesh: A Present-Day Water World

Villagers along the southern coast of Bangladesh not only have to cope with some of the world's heaviest rainfall; they also live in cyclone-battered communities, on mushy ground just a few feet above a rising sea.
Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic

Photographer Jonas Bendiksen made three separate trips to Bangladesh last year to document the wet season and the ways that rising waters are altering Bangladeshi life. National Geographic's May issue shows the impact of flooding in a densely-populated, low-lying country barraged by seasonal monsoons and cyclones, and situated in the Ganges Delta — the world's largest delta.

The photos portray an adaptability and resilience of the Bangladeshi people — who don't seem to ask if there will be floods during the wet season, but when and how often. The photos also visualize what other coastal populations could face with rising sea-levels.

  • Villagers along the southern coast of Bangladesh not only have to cope with some of the world's heaviest rainfall; they also live in cyclone-battered communities, on mushy ground just a few feet above a rising sea.
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    Villagers along the southern coast of Bangladesh not only have to cope with some of the world's heaviest rainfall; they also live in cyclone-battered communities, on mushy ground just a few feet above a rising sea.
    Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic
  • In the briny south, farmers have converted waterlogged rice fields into ponds for salt-tolerant shrimps and crabs.
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    In the briny south, farmers have converted waterlogged rice fields into ponds for salt-tolerant shrimps and crabs.
    Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic
  • Enterprising island inhabitants in the Gaibandha District use hyacinth plants to create floating gardens, where they will plant squash, okra, and other food crops.
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    Enterprising island inhabitants in the Gaibandha District use hyacinth plants to create floating gardens, where they will plant squash, okra, and other food crops.
    Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic
  • Docking six days a week, a solar-powered school boat helps educate kids whose homes are periodically flooded.
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    Docking six days a week, a solar-powered school boat helps educate kids whose homes are periodically flooded.
    Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic
  • Children play on in Jaliakhali, a village devastated by Cyclone Aila in 2009. That storm sent residents racing for one of thousands of recently built cyclone shelters (above), many of which double as community centers.
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    Children play on in Jaliakhali, a village devastated by Cyclone Aila in 2009. That storm sent residents racing for one of thousands of recently built cyclone shelters (above), many of which double as community centers.
    Jonas Bendiksen/National Geographic

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On the phone, Bendiksen explains that floods in Bangladesh aren't always viewed as natural disasters. Some people will move 20 to 30 times in their lifetime due to flooding, so their homes and lives are mobile. Some convert flooded rice paddies into shrimp farms or floating gardens. Children are taught in mobile floating schools aboard boats; they invent new ways to survive.

Bendiksen asserts that "their solutions are not global fixes," but he says, "their approach gives me hope and inspiration."

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