Water lapping homes in Garbura, Bangladesh. Ian Williams Posted: Monday, December 07, 2009 1:17 PM
Filed Under: On Assignment
By Ian Williams, NBC News correspondent

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- When I first met Kohinoor Shelim she was trying to feed rice to her young daughter, but the child just screamed and kept turning her face away.  Instead, the girl demanding lentils - wanting anything else except for rice, the only food her mother had been able to afford that day.

Shelim told me that, Insha'Allah (God Willing), her husband, a rickshaw driver, would return later with enough money to buy more food.

Home for Shelim, her husband and two daughters, is a tiny corrugated shack in one of Dhaka's biggest slums, a maze of narrow, crowded alleyways lined with squalid shelters and open sewers, spilling down to a fetid river. She'd moved to the Bangladeshi capital with her family just two months earlier. When I asked her whether life was better here, she just looked away.

Her home near Bhola, a district deep in the river delta on which much of Bangladesh sits, was lost to the sea. "Over time, the river broke our house," she told me. "Until we had nothing to live in." …

Take the island of Gabura, or what's left of it: A May cyclone smashed the embankments that had protected the island, and now most of it is gone, taken by the sea. The houses that survived cling precariously to spits of land, while makeshift shelters made of bamboo and sticks line the top of broken sea walls.

It's here I met Amjad Gazi, with his wife and six children, who were lucky to survive the raging waters. … 

Gazi still clings to a hope that the water levels may fall, enabling him to return to the land. That hardly seems likely.

"I don't see how much longer we can live like this," he told me. "One day we will have to leave. What else can we do?"

That will mean joining the mass exodus to the cities. …

This area borders India, where the authorities are building a border barrier, a high fence of reinforced barbed wire that cuts through the paddy fields. Soon it will completely encircle Bangladesh, 2,100 miles of it.

International migration, millions of poor and desperate people pouring across borders, is a sensitive subject here, but it is clearly one factor in India's thinking. The fence is due to be completed by March next year. …

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