Bangladesh: Cyclone Aila survivors take another hit

DHAKA, 7 April 2010 (IRIN) - Thousands of Cyclone Aila survivors hit by the May 2009 storm in southwestern Bangladesh have been hit again - this time by flooding and swollen rivers after embankments were breached by high tides.

Repair work on the life-saving embankments or polders - comprised of sandbags and bamboo - had only just been completed.

Over 45,000 people are marooned in the two adjacent sub-districts of Dacope (Khulna District) and Shyamnagar (Satkhira District), areas which were also among the worst hit by Aila, local officials told IRIN.

From 27 to 31 March, 28 villages were inundated in the area when parts of the embankments protecting them were washed away.

Southwestern Bangladesh is a low-lying deltaic flood plain, crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and channels, and is vulnerable to cyclones and high tides. People depend on a 7,500km-long network of flood embankments for survival.

Cyclone Aila washed away 1,700km of this network, rendering hundreds of thousands of residents even more vulnerable than usual.

In Dacope repair work on the embankments was completed on 26 March. Days later, the repaired segments were washed away and 13 villages in Kamarkhali Union flooded. Almost 20,000 people inhabit these villages, local officials say.

Time to leave?

According to Panchanan Roy, a primary school teacher from Dacope, many residents are now being driven to leave their villages permanently.

"It's been almost a year and our situation is not improving at all," he told IRIN. "These new floods have broken our backs. We have few other choices. It's impossible to continue living this way any more."

He also accused the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) [] - the government agency responsible for maintaining the embankments - of failing to carry out the necessary repairs during the winter dry season, which runs from mid-November to mid-January.

"Everyone knows that from March the rivers tend to swell and overflow. No repair work conducted this season can last," he said.

"It is distressing that the repair works did not last. We are trying to stem the water flow by starting up the repair works again," Mosaddeque Hussain, one of the BWDB engineers working in Dacope, told IRIN.

In neighbouring Shyamnagar local people tried to finish repair work themselves, but their efforts were washed away by the Klolpetua river, which flooded 15 villages of the Padmapukur Union, affecting more than 25,000 people.

"We are homeless again"

"We repaired the dykes and our villages emerged from the water. A week later, we are homeless again," Prabir Shaha, a resident of Padmapukur, said. Most of the villagers have since moved to nearby villages for shelter.

According to Nanigopal Mondal, a member of parliament from the area, the situation in and around Dacope has hardly improved since Cyclone Aila struck.

"I am feeling helpless and do not rightly know how to help my constituents," he said.

Meanwhile, the BWDB Khulna-2 office said large-scale repair work would probably not be undertaken before next winter.

Cyclone Aila struck the coast of Bangladesh on 25 May 2009, killing 190 people. According to the country's Disaster Management Bureau (DMB), [] over 3.9 million people were affected and more than 600,000 houses destroyed.

Cyclone Sidr struck the same general area in November 2007, killing some 3,500 people and making at least one million homeless.