Tag Archives: Weather-related deaths

41. Winter in Bangladesh

In a country where it is unbearably hot for so much of the year (see post 17), the cooler weather that begins in November is particularly welcome. Balmy days and nights make it so much easier to go about daily tasks. Travelling to and from work becomes less excruciating. The sunshine is pleasant during the day, and the nights are comfortably warm. It’s an altogether more gentle time of the year.

I have switched off the ceiling fan in my bedroom. I had forgotten how much noise it makes, and have had to considerably reduce the volume levels on my netbook and iPod. However, the fan used to block out – or at least muffle – most surrounding sounds too e.g. the noise from the streets. So, just when I thought I would be able to sleep blissfully in the cool of the night, without the irritation of the ceiling fan, I am kept awake by street noise. You just can’t win!

Another downside of winter is that the quantity of mosquitoes increases exponentially as the year gets cooler. The ceiling fans kept them in perpetual motion, but now they are much more noticeable in the stillness of the air. In fact, they are so bad at work that I often keep the ceiling fan on, despite the chill. On buses too, people are not as inclined to open windows, so there is no air circulating and nowhere to shoo mosquitoes to.

Once winter arrives, the residents of Dhaka begin wrapping up. Men mostly wear sleeveless pullovers and scarves. Jumpers and jackets also started to make an appearance, especially amongst CNG drivers. Some people cut quite a dash in their winter wraps. Yesterday, on New Elephant Road, I saw a tall, striking-looking man who could have been on the set of a photo shoot. He was wearing jeans, a fine long-sleeved top, a navy wrap and a Stetson! Women too wear wraps over their shalwar-kameezes and saris. There are rails of wraps in the shops in a variety of designs and colours. The more expensive ones are of wool, especially cashmere. Poorer people on the streets drape themselves in old blankets, and usually wrap scarves round their heads. I didn’t feel the need to adjust how I dressed for quite some time: on the contrary I was enjoying the lower temperatures.

However, as winter advanced, it actually began to feel a little chilly. This is because, in general, housing and transport are not designed for colder weather. Buildings are not insulated and don’t have heating systems. CNGs and rickshaws are open vehicles and the wind chill factor can cause a shiver. Cold showers are not easy to bear at this time of year, and so it is necessary to boil large pans of water for daily ablutions, carried in buckets to the bathroom.

LATER

Later, in December and January, parts of Asia, including Bangladesh, were caught in the grip of an unprecedented cold spell, and newspaper headlines reported that more than 135 people had died here as a result of the weather. Usually, temperatures don’t dip below 15 degrees Celsius in winter, but this year temperatures dropped to 5/6 degrees. In Dhaka, many days were characterised by a very cold fog. I couldn’t sleep because of the cold and filled plastic bottles with hot water to try to warm up my bed, until such time as I could get to market to buy some extra blankets. However, my discomfort is minimal when compared to that of those who live in flimsy housing of bamboo and tin. Worse still are the conditions for the many street dwellers in Dhaka and elsewhere. In rural areas it is reportedly colder than it is in Dhaka. Poorer people always suffer most. At night in the city now, I see groups of people wrapped in blankets and huddled around fires on the streets. The government and aid agencies have been distributing blankets and packages of warm clothing. Life is never easy in Bangladesh, no matter what the season.

People layering clothing and lighting fires to ward off the cold.