Bangladesh: rebuilding lives and livelihoods after the storm has passed

By Maherin Ahmed in Dhaka

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate risks, tropical cyclones and storm surges, affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. It is also one of the poorest and most densely-populated countries on the Asian continent.

“The storm started at three in the morning and continued until seven. I felt that the roof would collapse anytime. I got out with my family and moments after, my house crashed,” said Mohammad Shahidullah, a day-labourer in a remote coastal area battered by a tropical storm in October 2012.

“It was not safe to stay outside because the wind was so fierce. We ran to a neighbour’s house to seek safety. It was especially difficult for my mother. We barely made it out when the house came down,” said Shahid, as he’s known locally.

Bangladesh was hit yet again by a severe storm in the coastal districts of Noakhali, Bhola and Chittagong. The storm developed so fast that the communities in the affected area had little warning that it was approaching. The cyclonic storm claimed 36 lives and left a trail of destruction in its wake. Homes were swept away, boats and fishing nets destroyed, acres of farmland damaged and livelihoods lost.

Shahid was woken from his sleep by the sounds of howling winds. His rickety house was shaking from the storm raging outside. Sensing something wrong, he rushed to wake up his wife, two daughters and 90-year old mother. They narrowly escaped from being buried under their collapsed home.

Shahid and his family returned home once the winds subsided only to find their home completely destroyed. They built a makeshift shelter out of cardboard. The family had no savings, no financial resources to purchase materials to rebuild a new shelter.

“The Red Crescent provided us with tarpaulin, 2,000 taka (23 Swiss francs or 24 US dollars), rice and drinking water,” explains Shahid. “I used the tarpaulin that I received to cover the roof of my house. It gave us immediate refuge. Later with the 2,000 taka, I got my house repaired. I put together old tins, the tarpaulin, bamboos, hays, and nailed everything together to have a place to sleep.”

Shahid also explained how the rice helped his family get through the first week after the storm, “The Red Crescent has been a friend in time of trouble. How else could I have fed my children and old mother if they did not give me rice?”

Shahid’s story is one that is repeated throughout the storm-hit communities. While many people have been able to return to their damaged houses to begin rebuilding their lives, they remain vulnerable.

“Storms in Bangladesh happen so often that it no longer attracts much attention from the public, but the fact is those who are affected are often in vulnerable situations already. Although people have developed some coping mechanisms over the years, they still need our assistance.” says Tsehayou Seyoum, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) country representative in Bangladesh. “Most of the communities living in the affected areas are already living in poverty. They have no insurance, no savings to fall back on and they sink deeper into poverty.”

Volunteers and staff from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society provided emergency relief to almost 25,000 people of the affected islands including food, drinking water, and emergency shelter. Families also receive small cash grants to meet other immediate needs.

“As well as providing relief assistance, it’s important we begin helping people take control of their own recovery and begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.” Says Bangladesh Red Crescent’s Secretary General Abu Bakar.

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) financially supported this recent Red Cross Red Crescent tropical storm response as well the response to another storm and resulting floods in June, July and August in the northern and southeast regions of Bangladesh.