When the Waters Came PDF
Written by Shahidul Alam   


It was nearly twenty years ago when I had written this. After one of my first photojournalistic assignments:


What does one photograph to depict a flood? A submerged house, a boat on a highway, people wading in water?


As we boated through the branches in Jinjira we found a wicker basket in a tree. The family had long since abandoned their home, and their worldly belongings, gathered in that basket, waited patiently for their home coming.



Wicker basket  © Shahidul Alam


The worst flood in a hundred years? That statistic is hardly relevant. They, as those before them and after them will always face the floods. How does it matter whether they are 60% starved or 75% starved? How does it matter what country the relief wheat comes from? They themselves are mere statistics to power hungry politicians.



Woman cooking on rooftop  © Shahidul Alam


What is relevant are the feelings that have been kindled, that half kilogram of rice that has been shared, that solitary dry house that has warmly welcomed all who have needed the shelter. That others have shared the pain.



Woman wading in flood water  © Shahidul Alam


What is relevant is that now the roads are dry and the walls repainted and that a nation that once so cared has so quickly forgotten.


I look back and merely feel the ineffectuality of my images.


Shahidul Alam
Dhaka 1988


Nearly twenty years on, the floods are with us again. They are a part of our natural agricultural cycle. They irrigate the land, replenish the topsoil, remove the toxins. But deforestation in the mountains, illegal constructions, ill planned roads and ill caring leaders make floods take on a violent form. The waters get angry.


This year, when the waters had risen, our adviser advised that it was not yet a calamity. When the waters reached danger levels, the decree came that because of the state of emergency, ‘political banners were banned’ so while people struggled for food and shelter, banner rights became the issue. Now as the waters engulf the land and people flounder in need of relief, our adviser advises us "we don’t have to help the people, they’re going to their relative’s house by themselves".


Now that is a solution Bangladesh can offer to all the distressed people in the world. Just go find a relative.


Shahidul Alam
August 2007








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