In places like Gabura in south-west Bangladesh, climate change is costing lives – now, today.
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In May this year an Oxfam team set out for the small rural community of Gabura in south west Bangladesh to address this question. But while setting out to film material for an online documentary – the first we had ever attempted – on climate change, Cyclone Aila hit the village with deadly ferocity. Rapidly, the story shifted to include not just the everyday effects of climate change, but to the devastating impact of a natural disaster.
Oxfam’s online documentary “Gabura – Daily Life and Disaster” which captured these stories, starts with extraordinary footage of the cyclone hitting the village. It shows all too vividly the emotional and physical trauma endured by a community impacted by such events. And as director Sandhya Suri and colleagues gathered stories, both before and after the cyclone, it became apparent that in Gabura, as in so many other areas afflicted by climate change, it is often the women who are worst affected, who have the most heart-rending stories.
Sitting quietly in her home, Hosne Ara Khatun, a young woman with two children, was still so traumatised by the loss of her husband to a tiger attack she could barely speak. Eyeing the camera nervously, she related how he had gone in to the local forest to collect honey for the family. He never returned. Hosne now fishes daily with her two sons in order to find food to survive. If successful, they eat, if not, they go hungry. “So much hardship,” she whispers, her eyes darting to her children sadly.
Elsewhere in the community, Fatemah Khatun, a pretty young teenager, sits alongside her moths worrying she will not find a husband, as painful skin rashes caused by increasingly salty water – one of the more insidious effects of rising sea levels – have rendered her ‘unwanted’ by prospective husbands. Already, she says, her newly wed sister has been sent back home by her in-laws, displeased at the disfiguring marks that have blighted her young body.
While the dramatic cyclone footage provides a visceral experience to draw the audience in, it is these stories – the everyday traumas suffered by people living with the effects of climate change that linger longest in the mind. By making the documentary both online and interactive, so that the audience can choose the stories they wish to see, the audience can immerse itself in the experience of life in an area slowly succumbing to climate change’s impact, and in turn be galvanised into action in a bid to halt the devastation.
And as Oxfam and other organisations, activists, supporters and people across the globe await crucial climate talks in Copenhagen this December, we hope the stories of women such as Hosne and Fatemah are remembered.
Watch Oxfam’s online documentary “Gabura – Daily Life and Disaster”
Article by Sarah Brown