The banks of the river Kopotakhkho took on a festive atmosphere when staff and volunteers of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) gathered to distribute 20 new boats to the people of Koira upazila in Khulna district. Their boats and livelihoods were completely destroyed when Cyclone Aila hit the south-western coast of Bangladesh on 25 May 2009.
Restoring livelihoods, renewing hope
Muhammad Isa Dhali arrived at the distribution site with tears in his eyes. He was a fisherman before Cyclone Aila destroyed his fishing boat and nets.
When the Red Crescent presented him with his new boat, Isa said “I don’t know what to say. I have no words to describe my happiness. Now, I will be able to earn an income and repay my loan, and have enough food for my family.”
“I am also very happy because now my younger daughter can come home. She is in Dhaka working as a maid to support the family. Now, she can continue with her studies,” he added.
This single boat means such a lot to Isa Dhali. He recounts the difficulties of the past year for him and his family. “Besides food, we received no other form of external support, and I really needed a permanent solution so that I can earn a living to support my family. Now, once again, I can go to the river to catch fish.”
Short-term interventions, temporary results
Muhammad Asaduzzaman has been carrying out field monitoring for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the area affected by Cyclone Aila.
Over the past few months, he has been monitoring the beneficiary selection process and ensuring the boats are distributed correctly. During the course of his work, he has learnt a great deal about the suffering caused by the cyclone and he says, “The affected people in this area only have one possible avenue to earn an income, which is fishing.”
The flood protection embankment on the south-western coast of Bangladesh was washed away when Cyclone Aila hit last year and most of the embankment has not been repaired.
“All areas close to the Kapotakhkho river become submerged during high tide and people are forced to take refuge on the embankment or other higher ground. However, when the tide comes in at night, villagers have no choice but to stay in bed, as it is impossible for them to seek refuge in the total darkness outside. The sea water has also made the land so saline that no crops will grow here,” explains Asaduzzaman.
Several months ago, a few NGOs started an initiative to engage those affected in making repairs to the roads and embankment. The people received food and money for their labour. But as the rainy season approaches, the NGOs have had to stop their cash-for-work and food-for-work programmes.
It will be hard for these people to survive without land for cultivation or any other prospect of work. These new boats from the Red Crescent will provide them with a livelihood.
Continuous support, sustainable income
The International Federation and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society have given 300 boats to the people affected by the cyclone.
“The number of boats donated is still not enough as there are many more people who are still struggling,” says Asaduzzaman, “but at least 300 families will now have a stable income.”
The International Federation and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society will continue to work with the communities affected by Cyclone Aila.
During the operation so far, almost 5,000 people have received some form of livelihoods support and 8,000 people have received shelter materials.