Making haste while the sun shines in Cox's Bazar

By Gennike Mayers, IFRC

“I’m happy to participate in this cyclone preparedness training because one of my neighbors, Yassin Siddiq, was in the last group and he trained me to prepare for cyclones. Now I can train others too,” says Mustafa Kamal, resident of the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar.

Kamal arrived in Bangladesh with his family of 24 on 20 October 2017. He crossed over from Myanmar with his wife and their 16 children, three brothers and their children after violent clashes in his village in Rakhine state. Since then they have been living in the overcrowded Kutupalong camp with over 700,000 others.

Kamal, along with 40 other camp residents, participated in the three-day long cyclone preparedness training organized by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society with support from American Red Cross. The cyclone preparedness programme is a joint initiative that the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the Government of Bangladesh- Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief initiated in 1972. The aim was to help coastal communities take early action to reduce loss of life and property by preparing in advance.

Cyclone preparedness training sessions have been rolled out primarily in the coastal communities of Bangladesh for decades but with the influx of forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar, the Red Crescent and the Government of Bangladesh have stepped up their outreach efforts to ensure the safety of camp residents living in extremely vulnerable conditions. With the 2018 monsoon and cyclone seasons having ended, more training and mock drills are being conducted to ensure even greater coverage so that skills are kept fresh and accurate for the upcoming 2019 cyclone seasons in Bangladesh which run from April to May and October to November.

In camp, Kamal has been working as a safety unit volunteer. “I was actively working on establishing fire extinguishers, doing first aid training, flag-raising and awareness. People need to know how to prepare like keeping their food cards and valuable items together if they have to move quickly from their shelter.”

Mohammed Shazed, the assistant programme officer with American Red Cross, has supported many training sessions like this in the year that he has worked in Cox’s Bazar.

“I never get tired of doing this. What we are sharing will save lives. It was so good to see how the camp volunteers responded when cyclones Titli and Gaja were announced. Bangladesh Meteorological Department was tracking them and gave the cyclone alerts. In camp, the trained volunteers put up the warning flags and went around sharing information on loud speaker as per warning dissemination protocol.”

Eventually the warnings were stood down in camp as the cyclones thankfully moved away from Cox’s Bazar, however the exercise proved that the camp community were very attentive and enthusiastically applied the knowledge gained through the training programme. Although mock drills are a key part of the cyclone preparedness training as well as raising awareness, this real-life scenario put the community volunteers and other camp residents to the test.

To date over 1,300 camp volunteers have been trained since March 2018 and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society aims to train and equip a total of 3,400 camp volunteers by February 2019, ahead of the next cyclone season.

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