Bangladesh: Helpling cyclone survivors get back on their feet

Published: 25 May 2011 14:52 CET

By Bonosree Sarker in Bangladesh

When Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh in on 25 May 2009, tidal surges of up to 6.5 metres flooded the fertile agricultural land around the Sathkhira and Khulna districts in south-west Bangladesh. The powerful waves damaged over 1,700 kilometres of embankments along the coastline, sweeping away the only protection against storms and high waves those living on the coastal belt had.

The cyclone took the lives of 190 people and left 1.2 million homeless. In total, more than 3.9 million people were affected in Bangladesh. When the waters began to recede, they left behind their salt, poisoning the land for agriculture. Following the disaster, those in the affected regions struggled to regain their livelihoods and find alternative income to agriculture.

Two years have now passed since the cyclone left its mark on Bangladesh. Since then, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has been working with the communities affected, helping those who have lost their homes and livelihoods to create new lives for themselves.

Ishak Ali Gazi lived in Parshemari village which is in the district of Sathkhira. When the cyclone struck it damaged his home and took all of his 26 goats. To help him to recovery his livelihood, he received cash grant of 10,000 Bangladeshi taka (approximately 119 Swiss francs or 136 US dollars) from the Red Crescent which he used to buy six goats.

“I didn’t know what to do. After the cyclone hit I felt totally helpless. Now things are better. My livestock is worth 20,000 to 30,000 taka now. My daughter and I take care of the goats. I plan to sell them next year so that I can buy the iron sheeting I need to rebuild my house.”

Hazrat Ali, who lives in Chandnimukha village, was a day labourer before the cyclone hit. After the disaster, it became difficult for him to find work, as paid jobs in the area were scarce. He struggled to afford the food needed to feed his family of five.

“After receiving a cash grant of 7,000 taka from the Red Crescent, I took a loan of a further 3,000 taka from another NGO. With this money I started a poultry business,” he said. “Today, I have repaid my loan in full and I am able to look after my family. My children are attending school regularly, and no longer go hungry. I have dreams for their future; I hope that they will be able to get good jobs when they finish their studies.”

In Bangladesh, the people of the coast are known as “the brave people”, as every day they struggle for their life and livelihoods against the waves on the Bay of Bengal. But Ibrahim the ice-cream man of Koyra Shadar Union could not bear the psychological trauma after seeing the severity of the cyclone and his totally damaged house. For several months following the disaster he he remained severely upset.

“He did not speak with any of us for quite a long period of time; we were so worried about him,” said Ibrahim’s mother. “At the time, I didn’t know what to do; how we would survive, where I could put my two sisters. I was always scared for my sisters. During rains we had to take refuge in the school to protect ourselves. The nights there were long. With all of these worries, I could not sleep at night.”

Using the material from the family’s transitional shelter, together with the grant of 5,000 taka from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, Ibrahim has now built a new home. To help him to complete the house, he also received a cash grant from Government of Bangladesh.

“Now I have a house again, where we can all get a good night sleep. We are safe from rain and storms, and it also gives me a sense of security,” Ibrahim said proudly.

Through the Cyclone Aila recovery operation, people were given cash grants of 7,000 and 10,000 depending on their losses and damage to their homes. The money allowed these families to restore their livelihoods by buying poultry and livestock or to repair damaged shops. One of the main sources of income for many in the affected regions is fishing, so the Red Crescent also provided 300 boats and just one year later, most of those who received this support were back on their feet again.