For a long time, rivers and sea ensured the subsistence of the people of Bangladesh. Now, “the devil’s waters” are killing them. The state, companies, non-governmental organisations and the population are combining their efforts to find solutions to the new climatic dangers. RTL Radio France’s special correspondent Julien Dumond went to investigate and to report to listeners and internet users on his living and travel conditions, the people he met and the things he discovered.
Bangladesh, four times smaller than France but with three times as many people, is the most densely populated country in the world. It is also the world’s number one country on the scale of climatic risk. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a rise in sea level would swallow up 17 per cent of the total surface area of Bangladesh between now and 2050, making at least 20 million people homeless.
Ten months of sun per year is a good reason to use solar panels © Julien Dumond/Philippe Maillet
In the first stage of Expédition RTL in Bangladesh, reporter Julien Dumond and technician Philippe Maillet took listeners to the nomadic islands. Located in the northern part of the country on the immense Brahmaputra River, these islands disappear with the rising of the waters. A non-governmental organisation is trying to bring minimal aid and care to these populations that are losing their lands. The NGO Friendship International manages floating hospitals for the most isolated of them, with Frenchman Yves Marre at the helm. In 1994, he convoyed a barge from France to Bangladesh that he transformed into a floating hospital to bring medical care to people who didn’t have access to it. Since then, a second hospital boat has been put into operation.
Elias has drunk arsenic-contaminated water for years © Julien Dumond/Philippe Maillet
Next, Julien Dumond and Philippe Maillet went to Grameen Shakti, the “green” arm of the Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Price for his efforts to help the most destitute. In the village of Mawna, Grameen Shakti supplies solar panels to the residents who do not have access to electricity through microcredit, which gives disadvantaged populations access to bank loans.
It is not the land but the effects of arsenic © Julien
On the third day of their expedition, Julien Dumond and Philippe Maillet took a closer look at the terrible problem of arsenic, a veritable scourge in Bangladesh where groundwater is naturally contaminated. Having no choice, inhabitants continue to drink water from poisoned wells. Tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh are sick with pneumopathy or skin cancer. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) predicts up to 20,000 deaths per year in the years to come and the peak has not yet been reached. In collaboration with the Grameen Bank, the French company Veolia inaugurated a water treatment plant less than a year ago, while UNICEF and many other associations are trying to prevent the problem and install filters or arsenic-free wells.
World expert on water and arsenic Yan Zen works for UNICEF © Julien Dumond/Philippe Maillet
This Expédition RTL was led in partnership with the “Planète” pages of the newspaper Le Monde and was sponsored by Erik Orsenna, member of the Académie française, travel writer and author of L’avenir de l’eau: petit précis de mondialisation, published by Editions Fayard. In its second season Expédition RTL has been to Iceland, the country that is a veritable school for renewable energies, and to the Congo, to discover the importance of the equatorial forest and the protection of gorillas. The expedition then headed to the United States, a country that is betting on the technologies of the future to solve the problems of pollution caused by today’s energy, and to Costa Rica, a very interesting model country that for 30 years has ensured that economic development go hand in hand with the protection of the environment.