Monsoon floods threaten Bangladesh communities

Published: 8 August 2016 6:05 CET

Floods in Bangladesh have once again exposed the fragile relationship between people and water. 

On the one hand, water nurtures life. On the other, it can devastate entire communities. For the people of Jamalpur district, in northern Bangladesh, water has become a major threat.

Across the district nine people have been killed by floodwaters resulting from monsoon rains. The death toll for the entire country stands at 14.

An estimated 1.9 million people have been affected by flooding across 19 districts of Bangladesh. Nearly 7,400 people have sought refugee in 69 relief camps.

The floods, which started in mid-July, are moving towards the south of the country where river systems spill out into the Bay of Bengal.

Floodwaters also carry the potential for life-threatening waterborne diseases.

“We haven’t experienced a flood like this in the last 30 years,” said one local from Jamalpur.

“Water has seeped into every house. People with homes made from cement or tin are okay, but poor people like me are taking shelter along the rail tracks.”

What do we do now?

Jamalpur is surrounded by two large rivers: the Jamuna and Brahmaputra. Heavy rains have meant that water levels remain dangerously high.

The majority of the local population earn a living through farming and fishing. Vast areas of agricultural land are currently submerged.

Moyez Uddin, a farmer, had just planted some seasonal vegetables. His sense of dismay hangs heavy in the air as he speaks about the floods.

“I took a loan of 20,000BDT (250USD) to buy vegetable seeds and fertilizers,” said Moyez. “I had almost completed planting the seeds, but now I have nothing.

“The local government office provided some dry foods, but they will not last long. And how will I repay the borrowed money?”

The loss of life, damage to homes and livelihoods is not the end of it. Poor sanitation, due to the lack of toilets and hand-washing facilities, is a major problem. Women are particularly vulnerable.

“Only two thirds of toilets in our community are functioning,” said Pari Banu, from Dewanganj.

“Everybody is using them. So we have to stand in a long queue. We try not to go at night as it does not feel safe.”

Pari also explained how menstruating women cannot wash their clothes as water is scarce and preserved for drinking.

Building resilience

Across Bangladesh, some 9,300 homes have been destroyed with a further 12,370 houses damaged.

It will take time to rebuild homes, infrastructure and livelihoods. Many people may migrate to cities to earn a living.

“While there are urgent needs to address in the short term, we also have to look at building up the long-term resilience of these communities,” said Adith Shah Durjoy, disaster operations coordinator for the IFRC in Bangladesh.  

“We are extremely concerned about the danger posed by waterborne diseases and the lack of food, water and shelter. We’re working with the Bangladesh Red Crescent to address these needs.

“But we also have to strengthen communities’ resilience so they are better prepared for natural disasters. 

“These floods happen every year, although this year they have been particularly bad. We have to help communities adapt so they do not have to rebuild their homes and livelihoods each time.”

Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers have so far distributed food to more than 1,400 families, and clean drinking water to 2,000 families.

The Red Crescent is using eight water treatment kits, which can each treat water at a rate of 1,000 litres/hour, to provide clean drinking water to 15,000 people across Bogra, Sirajganj, Jamalpur and Kurigram.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 248,701CHF from our disaster relief emergency fund to support the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. Our emergency operation aims to help 11,000 families (55,000 people) over three months.