Together against the catastrophe | The Daily Star
02:41 PM, March 02, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:58 PM, March 02, 2021

Together against the catastrophe

Award-winning photographer Noor Ahmed Gelal portrays people whose lives are threatened by climate change. And yet they are successfully resisting it—with a sense of community and respect for nature. This is the subject of a new book, a joint German-Bangladeshi project.

The plains and river regions of Bangladesh bear witness to the fatal effects of excessive consumption, resource depletion, and misguided international climate policy. Families fighting poverty, eroded riverbanks leaving destruction in their wake, and the community, solidarity, and knowledge of those people in the village—all of this encompasses life in rural Bangladesh. Bangladeshi photographer Noor Ahmed Gelal, whose work has appeared in national dailies and at exhibitions around the world including Singapore, China, Paris, and Italy, captures this life in his photographs. For good reason, for these regions are the scenes of the greatest challenge of our time, climate change, which has long since become a climate catastrophe. The people portrayed by Gelal suffer the worst from these consequences of climate change, although they contribute almost nothing to it.

The development organisation NETZ, with offices in Dhaka and the German city of Wetzlar, has been active in precisely these regions in the north and west of Bangladesh for over 30 years. We—আমরা—living in the middle of Bangladesh's fringes (NETZ, 2021), an artbook comprising Gelal's photographs and text by Peter Dietzel, is meant to draw attention to the lives of the people in those villages as well as to the enormous responsibility of the international community in the face of the climate crisis. At a virtual book launch event held on February 25, 2021, Noor Ahmed Gelal, NETZ Executive Director Dr Max Stille, and Senior Programme Manager Aminur Rahman presented the book to representatives of the German Embassy and 30 international guests from the UN, Plan International, and the German development agency GIZ.  The 156-page hardback edition will be available in Bangla, English, and German.

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"This development programme has already enabled more than a quarter million people to improve their lives decisively and to have a future largely free of existential fears," Peter Fahrenholtz, the German ambassador to Bangladesh, writes in the Foreword to the photo book. Residing in Dhaka, Fahrenholtz accompanied NETZ to the countryside—to villages that can only be reached via clay paths and people who had only a handful of rice to eat on many days—to witness the impact of its projects in helping the rural extreme poor.

Gelal shared insight on the stories and research that make up the photo book, explaining that behind every picture is a story—the fishermen of the great Brahmaputra stream, children living on chars whose schools were made flood-proof, and the women engaged in agricultural work. Audio visual presentations showed the villagers photographed in the book reacting enthusiastically to seeing their homestead and community in book form.

Shyamal Chandra Sarker, director of MJSKS in Kurigram, Dr Ahsan Ali from Ashrai, and Akramul Haque of DASCOH Foundation spoke about the lessons to be learned from these village inhabitants, who know how to conserve resources and protect and learn from nature.

"People have preserved their relationship with nature. We can all learn from this. After all, humanity has been able to develop mainly thanks to the nature around it. The community aspect is in the foreground here", human rights expert Dr Meghna Guhatakurta said.

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