Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bangladesh: Still homeless two years after Cyclone Sidr

Two years after Cyclone Sidr, many people in the Sharankhola sub-district of Bagerhat, one of the worst-affected districts, continue to live in makeshift shelters

Two years after Cyclone Sidr hit the southern coastal districts of Bangladesh, many of the survivors are still homeless and at severe risk from further disasters, officials say.

Cyclone Sidr lashed the southern coastal regions of Bangladesh on 15 November 2007. Thirty districts were affected, with more than 3,400 deaths. Damage to property, livestock and crops was estimated at US$1.7 billion, with half of that in the housing sector, according to the government.

Despite aid efforts, victims still complain of a lack of assistance to rebuild their homes, while officials say more cyclone shelters are needed to protect communities from future storms.

Meanwhile, crucial work to prevent flooding remains under-funded.

Because of the country's low-lying deltaic topography, the southern coastal areas are extremely vulnerable to floods, high tides and cyclonic storm surges.

Extensive flood embankment networks provide this region with critical protection from these natural calamities, but Sidr damaged a large part, leaving the inhabitants of six coastal districts vulnerable to tidal waves and storm surges.

According to the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), which maintains these embankments, about 46 percent or 2,341km of the 5,107km of flood embankments protecting the southern regions were partially or completely destroyed by Sidr.

Repair work to the embankments has yet to begin properly, with a lack of funding cited as the primary reason. About $100 million is required, according to BWDB estimates.

“We have yet to receive the funds to start the repair works on the flood embankments. The process is going on and hopefully within a short time we will be able to start repairing the embankments,” Abdur Rab, BWDB’s senior engineer in Barisal district, told IRIN.

Of the six coastal districts affected by Sidr, Barguna was worst hit. Most of its flood embankments were washed away and the people are faced with the daily predicament of tidal seawater inundating their land.

“Every day, during the tides, brackish seawater gets into the croplands, fouling up the fertile topsoil,” Abdul Mazid, BWDB’s executive engineer in Barguna district, told IRIN.

“Soil salinity is increasing alarmingly. Almost 1,400ha of croplands in Barguna are regularly inundated by seawater,” he said. “The entire southern coastal region is now vulnerable because of the damaged embankments.”

Lacking proper shelter

“Nearly half a million people who were displaced by Sidr are still without proper housing and need rehabilitation,” said Abul Kashem, national councillor with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS).

In Bagerhat district, farmer Jainal Abedin, 30, said he lost his father, his home and all his possessions to Sidr.

“I am still living in a hovel made of plastic sheets and debris. I spent the 5,000 taka [$73], given to me by the NGOs for rebuilding my home, on food,” Abedin, who lives in the area of Sharankhola, told IRIN.

“It has been two years since the cyclone, but I still don’t know what the future holds for me and my family,” he said.

The BDRCS is working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which has built 1,250 cyclone core shelters, sturdier homes that can withstand a cyclone.

According to the government’s Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), the district of Bagerhat is also woefully lacking in proper cyclone protection shelters.

And for the 550,000 people living at risk in Barguna, at least 490 cyclone protection shelters are required, say LGED sources.

At present, there are 113 cyclone protection shelters in the district, which can support only 140,000 people.

“Ours is an extremely disaster-prone area, but the number of cyclone protection centres is minimal,” Kamal Uddin, chairman of Sharankhola sub-district council in Bagerhat, told IRIN. “The number … must be increased to minimize human casualties during natural disasters.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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