Story of Hope

Minu Sau balances a huge rock for the sea defence wall on her head. Minu is preparing for the coming monsoon season. She is one of 300 local people involved in rebuilding the destroyed sea defence wall. Smashed to pieces by cyclone Aila the previous year, the community are trying to protect themselves from increasing tidal surges and extreme weather events. With small steps and extreme precision she carries the rock some hundred metres before throwing it down and returning, where two men help lift another rock onto her head.

"The government pay for this two kilometre wall," says one of the people in charge, Ranjat Gayen. Despite long days and back breaking work the atmosphere among the workers is positive. Different teams are constantly busy. Moving concrete blocks, sandbags and rocks with nothing but hands. "It will take more than one year to complete it and we are going to have to work during the monsoon too," adds Ranjat, "we are all praying we don't have another Aila."

Gawking at the sheer amount of manual labour involved, our interpreter Sk Abidullah Mohammad recounts the day of cyclone Aila. "People were extremely afraid, many were injured and 25 died on this island alone. I hope it will never happen again I do not wish to see such suffering." Hundreds of people were killed and more than 22,000 homes were ravaged when cyclone Aila struck the Bay of Bengal in May 2009.

We walk some hundred metres along the shore from the wall construction site and meet family Dakka, who welcome us into their home. "During my childhood everything was pollution free and sufficient. Now it is different," says Sahander Dakka, 67. "Fourty years ago, our house was out there," he says, pointing 300 metres out into the sea. "So much land has been lost and it's getting worse, we have lost so much and we can not survive another Aila." Dakka's new home is built of clay and now lies 50 metres from the shoreline.
"We have rebuilt our home three times. The sea has turned our land saline and now we have too little land of our own, we have to work for other farmers to survive." He glances over to the construction site for the sea defence wall and continues, "Now we pray the rebuilding will go quick so it reaches our area before the coming monsoon."

Kabita Pramanik is one of around three hundred locals working long days building the sea defence wall on Sagar Island. The heavy concrete blocks for the government funded sea defence are made on the spot and manoeuvred by back breaking manual labour. The wall will be 2 kilometres long and with hundreds of people working, it will take a year to build.

Heavy workBlock by blockThe whole familyMinu Sau, Sundarbans, IndiaSibshankar Mal, Sunderbans, IndiaThe wall of hopeBuilding the wallYesterday's landAnjali and her kittenCollecting mud at low tideBuilding with their bare handsSack by sackTidal rangeStrong womenDeterminedBalancingSea barrierBreak time on the wallLost homeRuined sea defenceBola Majhi