River erosion

How building back better can help create a more resilient community

It is poor communities who usually live in the most risk-prone areas such as on river embankments or flood plains because they cannot afford to live in safer areas. When floods hit or the embankment erodes, people are faced with the task of starting all over again.

Practical Action is working with these communities, helping them rebuild their lives so that they can be stronger and more resilient against future adversity.

Helping communities to regain their strength

The process:

  • Strengthening and supporting the capacity of the target community and institutions to cope with natural disasters;
  • Providing alternative livelihoods opportunities through, skills development, technology transfer and small enterprise development;
  • Developing and supporting basic infrastructure services (water, health, housing), and enable poor people to access existing government services
  • Raising awareness on basic rights of the community, with particular emphasis on land rights and rights of women.

Among the technologies and approaches used are two very simple methods that help communities to keep producing food, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Sandbar cropping

Floating gardens

The floating garden is a clever solution that employs the use of water hyacinth, which is collected to construct a raft. This is then covered with soil and cow dung, in which vegetables can be planted. A new raft needs to be built every year, but the old one can be used as fertiliser during the dry season.

The rafts, eight metres long and one metre wide, are made from hyacinth which is available for free locally. Soil is put on the surface of the raft and then the seeds planted in the soil. Summer and winter vegetables such as gourd, okra and leafy vegetables are grown.

The floating gardens provide vital food for people even during the annual monga (period of food shortages) and they can also provide an alternative source of income through sale of any surplus in the market. The rafts can be moved from place to place so are also suitable for those that have temporarily or permanently lost their homes and land.

Shahana and Mohammed Akter from the Gaibandha district of Bangladesh

In the Gaibandha district of Bangladesh, hundreds of the poorest families have to survive in basic structures, having lost their previous homes due to increased flooding and erosion.

Practical Action has developed the disappearing lands project to help rebuild the lives of these vulnerable communities through construction of secure housing, the provision of basic service facilities and the facilitation of new livelihood opportunities.

Shahana and Mohammed Akter and their daughter Soma, have benefited from a new home through the project. Prior to this, their lived with Shahana’s father in a house perched precariously on an embankment with no access to clean water.

Now Mohammed is trained on the project and his wife has been trained in vegetable production, providing an additional source of income.

Shahana told us: "For the first time, we feel safe and secure. The village has good water and sanitation facilities and the cluster layout of the housing encourages a community spirit."

Their daughter, Soma, told us: "I remember the bad floods and having to live on the embankment with no fresh water. I never went to school before but now I can and have made many new friends. I want to grow up to be a teacher."

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Our Pathways from Poverty project aims to improve the livelihoods of 16,850 vulnerable char land households  living in 120 flood protection embankments located in four northern districts of Bangladesh, adjacent to the Brahmaputra and Tista rivers. This is part of the larger Shiree initiative funded by DFID Bangladesh.

You can read more about our earlier work with poor communities affected by river erosion in Bangladesh in the Disappearing Lands project, which ran until 2009.

Our disaster risk reduction programme in Nepal also works to help communities cope with river erosion and flood early warning.

Spurs and Dykes for Flood Protection

Spurs and dykes are structures that protect river banks and contain flood waters. They can be built by communities using stones and wire.


Floating Gardens in Bangladesh

A floating garden is built using aquatic weeds as a base on which vegetables can be grown.


Flood Resistant Housing

Bangladesh has regular floods putting people at risk. This brief describes some flood resistant housing options.


Pumpkin Growing Using Sandbar Cropping

This brief describes a way of growing crops on the sandbars, created by river deposits in Bangladesh, can be done to increase crop production for marginalised farmers.

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