Bangladesh: Cold Wave (MDRBD012) - DREF Operation Final Report

Summary: CHF 296,679 was allocated from IFRC DREF to support the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) to provide immediate assistance of 30,000 blankets distribution to 15,000 affected families across 21 districts. The DREF also supported an additional 9,000 blankets as preparedness stock.

This operation was initially planned for three-month implementation; however BDRCS managed to carry out all planned activities much earlier.

Distribution has begun with 30,000 blankets mobilized from BDRCS/IFRC joint disaster preparedness stock and BDRCS own stock. Following a call for deployment, ten national disaster response team (NDRT) members were deployed on 5 January 2013 for a week to assist BDRCS units with beneficiary selection and distribution. The replenishment of the 30,000 blankets has completed by end of February 2013.

Of the total allocated DREF, CHF 273,814 was spent. The balance of CHF 22,865 will be returned to the DREF pot. This final report is issued with the final financial report.
IFRC, on behalf of BDRCS, would like to extend gratitude to all donors and partners for their generous contributions.

The situation

Bangladesh experienced extreme cold weather (temperatures dropped to 7°C - 9°C) since mid-December 2012, affecting low-income people, particularly in 22 districts (Panchagar, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Nilphamary, Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Bogra, Joypurhat, Naogaon, Nawabganj, Rajshahi, Natore, Sirajganj, Pabna, Mymensing in the north, Moulvibazar in the east and Kushtia, Jessore, Faridpur and Madaripur in the south). The cold wave struck the northern districts of the sub-Himalayan regions of Bangladesh, claiming more than 72 lives, mostly children due to hypothermia. Hospitals in the affected districts reported an increase in the number of admissions for cold weather-related illness, particularly children, women and the elderly. Poor and homeless people are more susceptible to the cold wave as they do not have the means to keep themselves warm.

Furthermore, the cold wave has caused crop and other natural resource losses, which will have a longer term negative impact on Bangladesh’s economy. Winter crop failures will result in greater poverty, poor dwellings, and seasonal unemployment (especially agricultural or farming sectors). According to the representative of the Dinajpur district meteorological office, the minimum temperature of Dinajpur in 2013 fell to 3.2 degree Celsius (on 9 January 2013) which is the lowest in the last four decades. The average min temperature recorded in Dinajpur district during February and March is 14°C.

During early January, the movement of vehicles on roads and highways remained restricted as thick layers of fogs covered the air reducing visibility. Due to this heavy fog, ferry services, port and air traffic schedules were heavily disrupted. A large number of passengers suffered extreme hardship, as trucks, buses and private cars were stranded. Approximately 400 loaded trucks and 200 passenger buses were stranded on both sides of the river.

During the reporting period, the situation improved all over the country but mild cold wind still persisting in the northern districts. Blankets and warm cloth were required to keep warm, especially during the night.

The most vulnerable people to the cold wave are the marginal poor of the rural areas. The government has no estimation or indication about the total number of affected people as the damage is not visible like floods or cyclones. There has been some consensus among district level Red Crescent representatives as well as some government officials that BDRCS can take the total number of vulnerable group feeding (VGF) card holder people as the total most vulnerable due to the cold wave as these populations are considered to be the marginal or ultra-poor of society. In terms of geographical settings, people residing near rivers or bodies of water can be considered as the most affected as cold winds and fog are concentrated more in these areas. In terms of severity of the cold wave, women, children and the elderly are the most affected. The poverty rate in the country stands highest in the northern districts of Rangpur and Rajshahi whereby more than 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty. These populations are the most vulnerable as their capacity to protect themselves from cold wave is inadequate. In this context, the needs are:

· Warm cloths like blankets, shawls, woollen caps.

· Basic medical support for the children and elderly people suffering from cold related diseases, especially in the areas lacking basic health facilities.

· Short term agricultural support to the marginal farmers to restore paddy and potato cultivation.

The government has allocated 313,608 blankets throughout the country. However, the government assistance is inadequate to cover a large number of the affected population. In addition to the government distributions, several humanitarian organizations, university students, business community and local NGOs have responded to people affected by the cold wave by providing warm clothes to the rural and urban poor.

Bangladesh is not a severely cold-prone country except during the short winter season when the average temperature remains 13°C-20°C. People of Bangladesh are used to this cold but when the mercury drops to a single figure temperature, the cold weather becomes as a disaster. This phenomenon has been happening in the last few years, but this year the duration of the single figure temperature has been long and also triggered chilly winds which have carried fog. In particular, the situation in the north and north-western areas is severe. It is necessary to consider this cold wave as a disaster and take preparedness and response action because this event will happen again in the coming years due to the climate change effect.