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The poorest and most vulnerable? On hazards, livelihoods and labelling of riverine communities in Bangladesh

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Within the field of hazard research, vulnerability studies have been central to inducing a shift in the perspective on disasters as being primarily inflicted by geophysical events to that of apprehending disasters as destructive outcomes of particular social as well as hazardous environmental conditions. However, the inherent tendency within vulnerability studies to classify certain areas or people as ‘vulnerable’ may in some cases also serve to reinforce popular and/or ingrained prejudices, negative stereotypes and dubious explanations of the living conditions and fate of specific communities that become so labelled. The riverbanks and islands in river courses of Bangladesh have long been portrayed as home to the ‘poorest’ and most vulnerable communities, the widespread assumption being that people would only live in such riverine environments because they have no other options. Drawing on an examination of existing literature on char settlements in Bangladesh and data from a field site in the Jamuna River, this paper argues that the prevailing perceptions and labelling of char dwellers as ‘vulnerable’ people is based on a far too simplistic understanding of both rural migration patterns and the livelihoods obtained in these riverine areas.

Keywords: Bangladesh; floods; natural hazards; poverty; riverbank erosion; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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