The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees

 
 

The devastating effects of climate change — floods, salinization of land, destructive super cyclones, and reduced agricultural yields — have displaced millions of people from rural Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of people each year flee to Dhaka, one of the most densely populated cities on earth, to seek work and shelter. Dhaka’s slums are overcrowded and expensive, and many new arrivals are forced to make their homes wherever they can find space: in alleys, on footpaths, under bridges, or by the river port; under plastic sheeting and blue tarpaulins; in parks, graveyards, bus stations, and train stations; behind stadiums and religious centers; next to the High Court of Bangladesh; in between luxury high-rise condominium buildings named for exotic flowers.

Displaced primarily from Bangladesh’s southern and eastern regions, these are climate change refugees, called the “pavement dwellers” of Dhaka— soon to be the largest megacity in the world. As the effects of climate change increase, almost half a million people flee to this expanding city every year. Currently, 7 million people, representing 40 percent of Dhaka’s population, live in the slums, riverbanks, parks, and trains stations of the city. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN Habitat have estimated that 70 percent of these 7 million residents have arrived as a consequence of climate change.

As one young government official explained: “They come to Dhaka because they cannot live any longer where they are from. They come because Dhaka is the Change Luck City.”

Many of these citizens lack essential access to water, sanitation, education, and decent housing. Most are effectively stateless, as regional rights of origin often do not transfer to their new city. They supply the second largest garment industry in the world, and the privately owned $2 billion-a-year plastics recycling industry, with workers, and they and their families live in every available public or abandoned space in Dhaka. A small number of NGOs attempt to meet the pavement dwellers’ basic requirements for sanitation, education, and employment training; but with so many people arriving in the city each year, it is almost impossible to adequately address these needs by NGO support alone. There is no official national policy to address the lack of housing in Dhaka. State leaders have recently requested $4 billion from international aid agencies to address climate change mitigation, adaptation, and development, but it is unclear what percentage, if any, of the funds received might be used for housing and services for the pavement dwellers of Dhaka.

Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield live and work in South Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and the Asia Pacific region, photographing humanitarian situations including climate change, refugees, migration, and other human rights issues. You can view more of their work on their website.

The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A climate refugee pauses in traffic in the mega-city of Dhaka during the month-long Islamic holiday of Ramadan. Displaced from his home village by flooding, he sleeps in his rickshaw each night.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
These climate change refugees in Dhaka set up their homes in the evening under tarpaulins on footpaths in front of shops and offices. Many of the shopkeepers welcome the presence of the pavement dwellers, as they are seen as a deterrent to robbery and vandalism throughout the night.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
Young girls who are climate displaced in Dhaka work as flower sellers, prostitutes, factory workers, waste collectors, and shop assistants selling vegetables and betel leaves. Living on the streets, they are extremely vulnerable to assault, exploitation, and predation by human traffickers.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
At night in the Shamoli district of Dhaka, a climate-displaced boy rests from collecting plastic bottles. Pavement dwelling children gather, sort, and sell garbage and recyclables day and night to supplement their families’ incomes, selling recyclables and waste to third party distributors.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
Anjali is 8 years old, and lives in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi Park with her mother and brothers. Behind her, the young elite of Dhaka gather by the Dhanmondi Lake for Iftar to break the day’s fast. She collects their trash to feed and care for her family.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
This climate-displaced boy is 10 years old. It is 9:30 at night, and he has dropped off his evening’s collection of bottles at the recyclers who in turn sell the plastics to large, privately owned recycling companies that form an integral part of Bangladesh’s booming $2 billion per annum plastics industry.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
Unable to farm their land due to rising sea levels, these climate refugee men have become Dhaka’s rickshaw drivers, vegetable sellers, tea stall and construction workers. They sleep on the street near Bangladesh’s Parliament.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
Climate refugees, a mother and child, take shelter under a tree in the affluent Dhaka suburb of Dhanmondi, away from the searing 45-degree celsius heat in one of the world’s most polluted cities. Her family sleeps under a bridge, around the corner from ministerial residences and planned luxury condominiums.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
Forced from their land by drought and super cyclones, farmers, fishermen, and laborers from Bangladesh’s southern and eastern regions come to Dhaka seeking employment. These men are selling fish in Kakrail, Dhaka.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A climate displaced grandmother takes care of her grandchild while the infant’s mother works as a domestic helper for Dhaka’s rapidly growing middle class. They live under a bridge in Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A young boy, climate-displaced from southern Bangladesh, bathes next to the Buriganga River at Sdherhegot, Dhaka.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A porter who lives on the pavement next to the Buriganga River sells fruit in Old Dhaka.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A pavement dweller repairs a porter’s basket at Sadarghat, Dhaka’s river port.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
NGOs offer classes in Dhaka’s city parks to pavement dweller children. After school, these children do their homework in the alley in Segun Bagicha they call home. In the evenings, they collect recyclable plastics to earn money to help their family pay local officials every week to live under the tarpaulin pictured behind them.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
The Change Luck City: Dhaka’s Climate Refugees
A make-shift home under a foot bridge in Dhanmondi Park, Dhaka.
Image Credit: Nellie Le Beau and Hugh Tuckfield
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