Floods leave a trail of destruction in rural Bangladesh

تم النشر: 14 سبتمبر 2014 22:21 CET

By Himadri Ahsan, IFRC

When the Dhorola River – a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra – flooded Jatrapur union in the north-eastern district of Kurigram, Red Crescent volunteers had no choice but to start search-and-rescue and relief operation using log boats made from banana trees strung together.  “We haven’t seen floods like this in years,” says Shawon, Bangladesh Red Crescent Youth Chief in Kurigram.

Since mid-August a similar scene was unfolding in 19 other low-lying districts in the east, west and central areas of Bangladesh, where downpours coupled with heavy rainfall in the main river basins and upstream catchments of India caused flooding which affected over three million people. More than 340,000 people were forced from their homes and 34,000 houses were completely destroyed. The country’s inter-agency needs assessment report describes the situation as ‘the most severe floods the country has faced since the mega-flood of 2007’. Government reports say 52 people have drowned and more than 400 injured in the 10 districts surveyed.

Nurunnahar stays on a char, a temporary raised embankment, along the River Dhorola. Somehow she has managed to stay in her submerged home for weeks. “We should have left to a safer place, but this home is all we have. I saw snakes in the water right outside, but mostly I was scared, thinking what I would do if human bodies floated in here.”

Residing in the same char, Zahera – whose house is still immersed in floodwater – says, “My family and I decided to leave when our skin swelled in the water and the smell of dead cows became unbearable.” According to the country’s Disaster Management Information Centre, there has been a spike in cases of diarrhoea, skin and eye infections due to the contaminated floodwaters.

“With the tube wells contaminated with flood water, the only other source for drinking water for most people in Kurigram is the river water which they can’t boil as their kitchens are damaged and utensils lost”, explains Suman Chandra Sil, a member of the Red Crescent’s national disaster water and sanitation relief team. Recognising this problem, the Red Crescent has set up a mobile water treatment plant which is producing enough drinking water for the daily consumption of 1,000 families.

The Red Crescent has been on the ground responding across the country since the floods began. Hundreds of staff and volunteers have reached thousands of families, providing them with food, personal hygiene items, non-food items, safe drinking water, and medical services.

In many of these flooded areas there are high levels of pre-existing vulnerabilities, including poverty, malnutrition and social deprivation. Umid Ali, whose family in Kurigram has just returned from a flood shelter, says, “We came back to a wrecked house and found all our crops damaged. There is no guarantee that we can grow crops now as this is off season,” says Umid. His son adds, “We would have to take more loans to buy seeds. We would need hundred percent harvests to pay off some of these loans. On top of that, we now have additional expenses to buy food and replace what we lost in the floods”.

In response to the country’s inter-agency joint needs assessment report – which identified food, safe water, sanitation and livelihoods as priorities – the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has just launched a 2.2 million Swiss Franc (1.8 million Euros, USD 2.3 million) international appeal to help the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society provide humanitarian assistance to 100,000 people in the most affected districts.

With major damage to housing and agriculture, significant interventions are needed to help people recover their livelihoods following this flooding. “People need support before they spiral further down the poverty ladder”, says Tsehayou Seyoum, head of the IFRC’s Bangladesh office. “As the monsoon season extends up to October, the risk of more heavy rains and flooding also remains and we need to be ready with enough relief supplies locally to meet the humanitarian needs on the ground”.