In many ways, Jamuna Mondal’s life has been shaped by river erosion and climate change.
When the 75-year-old married Sridhar Mondal at a tender age around sixty years ago, she became part of a well-to-do family. After half-a-century of upheavals, she now finds herself and her 10-member family towing the lines of destitution.
“I have faced at least 10 separate instances of forced displacement from my homestead,” Jamuna said while netting shrimp fry from Shakbaria river, amid the high tide and storm of cyclone Yaas on Wednesday noon.
On the day, the weather didn’t even favour going out, let alone fish in the river. But the widowed septuagenarian simply does not have an option.
Her two sons Haripada Mondal and Nirapada were also netting shrimp with their aged mother when this correspondent spoke to them near their residence at Borobari village under Koyra upazila.
Once a self-sustaining family, the relentless uprooting means the family now has to buy everything from the market, and there’s only one resource they can rely on to make the money.
“We have no alternative but to fish for a living,” Jamuna said. “Where we used to grow our grains and crops is lost to river erosion and tidal surge.”
Around a decade ago, the family lived right beside the Shakbaria river. “But when Aila came, it took everything from us,” a melancholic Jamuna said.
But the misfortunes showed no signs of stopping. “Then a year ago, Amphan took away whatever we had built up since Aila. We’re basically destitute now,” she said.
All of these must have been traumatic for the family, but it struck this correspondent as odd that the family was out fishing on the eve of another cyclone. “Don’t you fear this cyclone?” he asked.
“We’ve travelled so deep into fear that I don’t feel it anymore,” Jamuna replied, with a mirthless smile.
Jamuna ended up netting 178 shrimp fry for the day, while her son Haripada caught another 280. They took the haul to nearby Kasaribari Bazar and sorted them together. Jamuna sold hers for Tk 162.
“This is what life is like right now. We don’t know what our destiny is, we don’t know where we’re headed,” Jamuna said while her eyes veered off elsewhere.
Over the next day, their destiny manifested in another round of tragedy. After the cyclone hit, the embankment at Shakbaria river broke, submerging 34 villages in Koyra upazila alone.
Around 2,100 shrimp farms of the area were drowned in the flood, with fisheries officials estimating somewhere around Tk 20 crores in loss.
As for Jamuna and her family, inevitably, they had to leave their home once again. The nearest cyclone shelter being quite far, they instead chose to camp at a nearby highland where the floodwater can’t reach.