The IoS Christmas Appeal: All it takes is a few feet of uplift to give a family a stable home

Raising houses out of harm's way helps people cope with floods.

In Bangladesh, they have a word for it – ootuli. This is the name for people whose land has disappeared from beneath their feet, washed away by the mighty rivers that carve up the land.

Aklima Begum became ootuli 10 years ago, along with her husband and their six children, when the Jamuna river rose in fury. "We lost not only our land, but also our cattle shelter, two cows, three goats and five chickens," she said. "All we could salvage was some of the materials from which our hut was built." Her husband is now paralysed, and the family's only earnings come from Aklima's occasional work as a weaver.

But even when they had a patch of ground to call their own, they lived in a state of insecurity unimaginable in Britain. While climate change has been blamed for more frequent and widespread flooding, here millions of destitute Bangladeshis are flooded out of their homes by the monsoon for at least a month every year.

"During flooding, we had to take shelter with other people, walking miles across the floodwaters with our animals and essential belongings," Aklima said. And each time the family returned, their hut would be a wreck. Repairing or rebuilding it swallowed up much of their tiny income.

Another Bangladeshi word is monga, or "starvation period", which can happen over six months of the year when families may have no food for two or three days at a time. "We just starve when the food runs out," said Usha Banu, another riverbank dweller. She and her family are flooded out up to three times a year. Sometimes, they can move their few belongings to a makeshift shelter on the nearest embankment, but if they are not quick enough, everything is lost, including their food crops. Even if they have escaped in time, they are pitifully vulnerable, with nowhere to store food or any other possessions.

Yet the worst danger during the floods is not hunger or drowning, but disease caused by the shallow, stagnant water that envelops everything. With village wells contaminated or submerged, people often have no choice but to drink floodwater, contributing to the 75 million cases of diarrhoeal diseases that kill 110,000 Bangladeshis every year.

How would one begin to help people such as Aklima Begum and Usha Banu? Practical Action, the charity being supported by The Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal, has literally lifted them up. Their homes have been raised above the floods by building them on a 6ft plinth of sandy soil, brick and concrete, strong and high enough to last through repeated inundations, unlike traditional earth floors that simply wash away.

Walls are made of brick up to window level, increasing their resilience, and topped with locally available corrugated iron. Around the house, thirsty plants like bamboo and banana soak up any water left by flooding. These, along with food and medicinal plants such as guava, coconut, mango and palm, help to bind the soil.

With a little training and some materials supplied byPractical Action, landless people have been able to build their own flood-proof houses for just over £1,000 each. Shahana Akhter, whose family lost everything twice before in floods, admitted that she found it hard to believe their new home would be safe. "But then I saw it with my own eyes," she said. "After we moved, the area was flooded, but the waters did not reach our home. It remained an island."

Similar techniques are used to raise village wells above the highest historic level of flooding in an area – simple, but no one had thought of doing it before Practical Action did so. The charity is elevating more than 100 wells at a cost of just £80 each, and is building nearly 60 new ones, saving more than 30,000 people from disease.

Uplift of a different kind has come from Practical Action's ideas for growing food in previously barren areas, such as sandbars. Poor villagers have been shown how to grow food in pits no more than a metre across, filled with compost and a few pumpkin seeds. Each pit, costing barely 30p, will produce up to 10 pumpkins. Even more ingenious are the floating vegetable gardens the charity has devised. Rafts are woven from water hyacinth, normally considered a weed, soil is spread on top and vegetables are planted. The floating gardens are, by definition, impervious to flooding, and the hyacinth roots act as a natural fertiliser. Rafts can be reused, and moved around. The produce from the pits and rafts not only improves the diet of the growers, but gives them a surplus they can sell.

Such projects are what Practical Action is all about – they are straightforward, cheap and help some of the poorest people in the world to help themselves, transforming lives to a degree out of all proportion to the cost. "It feels so good finally to have an address," Mrs Akhter said. "Now we have more respect and more chances in life." Through the generosity of our readers, we can help many more people like her.



How your money can help

£30 buys compost for a floating garden

£72 pays for 250 compost pits, each growing up to 10 pumpkins

£155 could construct a new, flood-free water pump

£636 pays to flood-proof three existing homes

Christmas Appeal

The Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal is for the work of Practical Action, a charity that supports some of the poorest people in the world. For more than 40 years it has helped millions in Africa, south Asia and Latin America to improve their lives, avoid disease andbecome more self-sufficient.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE IOS APPEAL

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 teacher required ...

LSA

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: To work as part of the Le...

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week