Bangladesh Flash Appeal 2004

The aim of this six-month Flash Appeal is to solicit substantial contributions to the immediate relief and early recovery needs of the ultra-poor - the most vulnerable victims of the floods that devastated large areas of Bangladesh in July 2004.

The UN Country Team (UNCT) has identified urgent needs in the sectors of food, agriculture, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, family shelter, education, protection, economic recovery and infrastructure, and coordination and information management over the next six months.

Bangladesh is arguably the most disaster-prone country in the world. Since independence in 1971 it has reeled under the effects of 200 disasters causing 500,000 deaths, directly affecting the lives of millions of others and causing disruption to livelihoods, economic and social development. The impact of these disasters is compounded by and has exacerbated the extremely high incidence of poverty.

This year's floods have had a terrible effect on more than 33 million people, destroying houses, crops, livestock and essential rural and urban infrastructure. Gastro-enteric and other diseases are rife as millions of clean water sources have been contaminated and sanitation facilities disrupted. Almost a million dwellings have been destroyed, more than 3,000,000 damaged and millions of inhabitants temporarily or permanently displaced. More than 2,000,000 acres of agricultural land have been submerged and countless crops ruined. Further floods associated with the monsoon and cyclone seasons remain a real possibility over the next six months.

The people of Bangladesh have shown remarkable resilience and determination and the Government has made the most strenuous efforts to deal with the disaster and its effects. They have welcomed the international help received so far, but it is now clear that the enormity of the disaster requires major additional international financial input, which the Government of Bangladesh has now requested.

The international community has responded generously in the initial relief phase, but much more is needed to help kick-start lives and livelihoods, particularly of the poorest and most vulnerable people. Accordingly, the Appeal requests US$210,077,952 for projects in specific sectors as tabulated below. The UN's governmental and NGO partners will implement the proposals, supported by the UNCT, which has carefully assessed the relevance and feasibility of the projects involved. The UNCT, together with the Government, will take the lead in coordination and monitoring.

The ultimate objective of the Appeal is to help the poorest and most vulnerable people of Bangladesh to help themselves and to recover their livelihoods.

OBJECTIVE - The People of Bangladesh

The objective of this Appeal is to solicit contributions to the immediate relief and early recovery needs of the people of Bangladesh most adversely affected by the devastating floods that have prevailed since early July 2004, will continue for the immediate future and could well be exacerbated by further heavy monsoon rains or cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal. The Appeal covers the six months from August 2004 to January 2005. Although the destruction, damage and disease has already been devastating, the full effects of the flood will not be clear until the waters have fully receded; as well as revealing a more complete picture, this will bring in its wake even greater threats to the health of the poor and disadvantaged. The Government of Bangladesh's current best estimate for the overall cost of the damage and destruction is US$7 billion; such a sum is beyond the scope of this Flash Appeal, which therefore concentrates on the needs of the ultra-poor and particularly vulnerable.

Urgent needs have been identified in the sectors of food, agriculture, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter, education, protection, economic recovery, infrastructure and coordination. The sectors and projects identified aim to kick start the livelihoods of the poor and displaced by providing immediate relief where absolutely necessary and facilitating the restoration of their economic base to avoid prolonged dependence on relief. A prerequisite for this is to ensure that the people are healthy enough to work and rebuild their homes, and that the basic economic infrastructure in urban and rural areas is functional.

The people of Bangladesh are extraordinarily independent, resilient and stoical and will strive to achieve what they can within their own means, but these means are often slender and sometimes non-existent. Many people have sold their last remaining possessions to buy food or medicines. Donors can assist these people to restart their lives by ensuring that they are provided with simple shelter, clean water, basic sanitation, food and supplementary nutrition where necessary, and are able to return to a semblance of economic independence.

BACKGROUND - Bangladesh and Disasters

Bangladesh is arguably the world's most disaster-prone country. Since independence in 1971 it has endured almost 200 disaster events that have caused more than 500,000 deaths; many of its 144,000,000 people have experienced multiple devastations. Bangladesh suffers cyclones, storm surges, tornadoes, earthquakes, epidemics, floods and droughts. Whilst tropical cyclones are the biggest killers, floods have by far the most widespread, prolonged and damaging effects.

Bangladesh's position in the delta of the three major river basins of South Asia - Brahmaputra (Jamuna in Bangladesh), Meghna and Ganges (Padma) guarantees major annual inundations. Every year at least 21% of the landmass is flooded. In the severe floods of 1998 the percentage rose to 68% and in 2004 even this has been exceeded. Unusually extensive and destructive floods also occurred in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1993. Ironically, drought seriously reduced crop production in 1972, 1978-79, 1982 and 1989.

The human impact of these floods is made all the greater by the fact that, apart from some city states, Bangladesh is the world's most densely populated country. Moreover, population density and the numbers of vulnerable people are increasing in all parts of the country. The pressure on land is such that newly reclaimed land is immediately occupied for agriculture. The coastal area also attracts a large number of seasonal workers and there is increasing migration from the countryside to the major cities. The environmental degradation caused by an ever-increasing population exacerbates the problem, but most people are too busy trying to scrape an immediate existence to worry about long-term deterioration of their health and security.

Although economic growth has averaged 5% over several years and improvements have been made in health and education and progress has been made in reducing population growth, poverty remains endemic and crippling. Bangladesh ranks 138 out of 174 countries on the Human Development Indicator list.

Thanks to the determined efforts of the Government of Bangladesh, international donors and stakeholders at every level, disaster management has improved considerably over the past few years and this is probably reflected in the reducing death tolls from floods. However, the combined effects of the adverse factors explained above ensure that the poor and disadvantaged will continue to remain disproportionately vulnerable to disasters, as the current floods so graphically demonstrate. The people of Bangladesh need the support of the international humanitarian community.

SITUATION - Destruction, Displacement, Disease

The Past Five Weeks

Heavy monsoon rains lashed Bangladesh from late June. Persistent and exceptionally heavy rainfall, torrential flows from India, Nepal, China (Tibet) and Bhutan and snowmelt from the Himalayas compounded the problem.

The Meghna River reached danger levels in the first week of July, inundating the Haor region in the northeast of the country and more than 8,000,000 people were affected. Since this area was the first to be flooded and was submerged for the longest time, the scale of hardship and the levels of displacement are particularly high. This same area also suffered flash floods in April 2004 that destroyed many of the crops in that season.

In north-central Bangladesh, 3,500,000 have been affected. According to assessments, some 120,000 houses were destroyed in this area; this is of particular concern in Jamalpur District, which already has the greatest poverty and food insecurity. The road network has been particularly affected, with more than 11,000 km of roads damaged. In the Char Districts of north-central Bangladesh, a further 3,300,000 people have been affected.

The northern zone is apparently somewhat less affected than its neighbours, but even here 1,500,000 have been affected by floodwaters from the Jamuna (Brahmaputra) River.

As the floods developed, the central region, where the three major rivers (Jamuna, Meghna and Padma) converge, felt their full force. In rural areas, 6,400,000 people have been affected and 83,000 houses destroyed. In Dhaka itself, 3,900,000 urban dwellers have suffered. East of the Meghna, a further 3,600,000 have been affected. The situation could have been even worse, but high tides in the Bay of Bengal did not materialise as anticipated on 1-2 August. The furthest extent of the inundation is shown in the map at Annex B.

By the end of July the waters had started to recede from many flooded areas, but many major rivers were still flowing above danger levels in various places. The crisis is far from over; not only can monsoon rains be expected well into September, but the cyclone season starts in November. The Bangladesh Meteorological Department is forecasting normal rainfall for the rest of the season, indicating that there will be further floods similar to those of previous years. This year, however, given the especially vulnerable physical and economic condition of those still displaced and those just returning to their homes, even a normal flood could be disastrous for them.

Impact of the Floods

The floods have been devastating. Government statistics show more than 33,000,000 people affected; this and other relevant data are tabulated below. Government figures broadly correlate with those in the draft Assessment Report released by the Disaster & Emergency Response (DER) Sub-Group of the Local Consultative Group of Bangladesh (LCG), and with other independent sources. The LCG is a forum for development dialogue and donor coordination in Bangladesh.

Districts affected
Upazila (sub-districts) affected
Unions affected
Area affected (km sq)
Families affected
Individuals affected
Daily cases of diarrhoea
Livestock dead
Crops destroyed (acres)
Crops damaged (acres)
Houses destroyed
Houses damaged
Roads destroyed (km)
Roads damaged (km)
Bridges and culverts destroyed/damaged
Embankments destroyed/damaged (km)
Schools and religious institutions destroyed
Schools and religious institutions damaged
Shelters open
Individuals in shelters
Overall damage and loss estimate
US$ 6.6 billion

The scale of the floods and the consequent displacement, damage and destruction has been extraordinary. With almost 75% of the country under water at one point, most of the population has felt some impact, either directly or indirectly. The primary impact has been displacement from homes and villages due to rising water; many low-lying villages, towns and even cities such as Sylhet were inundated and populations forced to seek refuge on any scrap of dry ground or on roofs and embankments.

Hundreds of thousands of homes have been completely washed away or damaged. Other buildings, including schools, clinics, small businesses and workshops have also been severely affected by the floods, with many of them being submerged, damaged, or occupied by displaced people. Repair and reconstruction of damaged houses will be a crucial part of the process to restore flood victims' livelihoods, so that communities can get back to previous levels of economic activity and income once the waters recede.

Roads between communities, as well as inter-city communications, have been submerged in the most severely affected districts and the electrical power network has also been disrupted in many areas. Meanwhile many hundreds of thousands of tubewells have been inundated, depriving the millions dependent on them for safe water. Large quantities of water purification tablets (WPT), oral re-hydration salts (ORS) and bleaching powder disinfectant are needed immediately.

More than 2,000,000 acres of agricultural land have been submerged. The forthcoming main Aman harvest, which accounts for 50% of annual rice production, is in jeopardy. Around 50% of rural people dependent on farm labouring will have no employment and hence no income in the short- to medium-term. Traditionally vulnerable groups such as landless female-headed households will be at even greater disadvantage.

Most of the worst affected people are the poor from the rural areas, and include farmers, day labourers, rickshaw/van pullers, small traders or fishermen on the inland lakes and ponds, but there is a significant urban population whose homes are flooded and livelihoods damaged, particularly in Dhaka and Sylhet. A map showing the overlap of poverty and the floods is at Annex B.

Through long experience of dealing with frequent floods, the people have developed coping mechanisms, but even these, which demonstrate a resilience and determination beyond the understanding of citizens of most developed countries, have been overwhelmed and suggest great suffering to come. Many people have had to sell their already meagre possessions or mortgage their labour to buy food and medicines. This might secure immediate survival, but guarantees enormous hardship in the near future. Even those with some funds are facing price increases for food, medicines and seeds. The problems that the population face include finding food and clean water, staying healthy or recovering from illness in a virulently unhealthy flood and post-flood environment in which gastro-enteric diseases, pneumonia, snake-bite and drowning are just a few of the hazards. There are reports of sexual harassment in some shelters in which women have sought refuge, raising the issue of women and child protection.

The effects are being felt in two phases - during the flood and the immediate post-flood. The table below illustrates the effects of this year's floods on people, property and infrastructure according to the DER.

Displacement from homes and inability to move in the absence of boats Damage or destruction of their houses Destruction and damage of culverts and bridges
Loss/Lack of Food and inability to cook. Damage or destruction of their crops Damage to electricity network
Loss of jobs and income force the sale of assets to buy food and other essentials Theft of family assets from homes that have been evacuated. Destruction and damage of roads and railways
Disease and deaths from diarrhoea, snakebites, pneumonia, drowning Submersion and damage to tube wells resulting in lack of clean water supply
Issues of security and protection and women and children left homeless by floods Damage to rail infrastructure

Receding floodwaters do not automatically result in a return to normal life. On the contrary, many families have nothing to go back to - no source of income, house or food. Inevitably, many of the displaced will seek succour in the cities, contributing to the growth of the urban slums. Additionally, as floodwaters that get trapped in higher ground stagnate, harmful bacteria and diseases such as cholera and typhoid threaten those that have no choice but to drink it. Experience from the 1988 and 1998 floods show that the post-flood period causes more deaths than the flood itself. This appeal reflects the urgent needs during this time. The Government of Bangladesh is also seeking assistance for longer-term post-flood rehabilitation and reconstruction.

SCENARIOS - The next six months

Because much of the country is still submerged it is not possible to gain a detailed view of the scale of damage and destruction caused by the floods, however, all the indications suggest that it is as great, if not greater than the severe floods of 1998. Moreover, whatever else happens over the next 6 months, the damage to lives and livelihoods of millions of Bangladeshis has already been done and the country's development has suffered a major setback. The situation is already sufficiently grave to warrant continued international attention and assistance, but things could change - not necessarily for the better.

In the worst-case scenario, Bangladesh could suffer further severe inundations during the next few weeks of the monsoon season. Also, the cyclone season starts in November and that could strike the coastal areas that have been less affected by the current floods. A follow-on disaster would be major blow to people that have already suffered greatly. In the most optimistic case, the monsoon rains will be exceptionally light, cause no further flooding, allowing normal cultivation to resume and the people to recover from the current floods without yet more disruption.

The most likely scenario, confirmed by preliminary reports from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, is that the rainfall in the rest of the monsoon season should be relatively normal. However, factors such as rainfall and water control in neighbouring countries might still have an adverse effect, particularly in the northeast of the country. In this case, some local displacement and damage can be expected. What is clear is that in any of the scenarios described above, the poor and vulnerable of Bangladesh will need urgent and continuing international assistance both through this Flash Appeal and from other sources in the longer term.

SOLVING THE PROBLEMS - The People, the Government, and the International Community in Partnership

The People

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this disaster to the international observer is the remarkable resilience of the people, their capacity for hard work and their self-sufficiency, whilst providing mutual support to each other. "The less you have, the more you are prepared to give" is a truism in this case. The people of Bangladesh have not waited for handouts; wherever humanly possible they have taken their future into their own hands. However, the scale of the displacement, damage and destruction is such that without a substantial injection of funds from the international community, the poor will be unable to rebuild their lives and the ultra-poor may lose them altogether.

As an example of how the floods undermine even those able to earn a subsistence living, when there are indications that the floods will remain for some time, the farmer harvests his crops early and sells what he can. As the flood wears on, he sells his remaining assets and possessions to buy life-sustaining essentials. Often this leaves the farmer with nothing by the time the flood recedes, so he cannot buy seeds to replace the lost crops, or tools with which to work the ground - he and his family are caught in the poverty trap.

The Government

The Government of Bangladesh has responded to this disaster to the best of its considerable capacity and capability. The National Disaster Management Council, led by the Prime Minister, has met regularly to assess the situation and provide policy direction; it quickly activated its Standing Orders on Disaster. The Ministry of Food and Disaster Management set up its central Emergency Operations Centre in Dhaka to consolidate information from all affected Districts. Other ministries have activated similar systems to deal with their specific sectors. Disaster Management Committees have been convened at District, Upazila and Union level. This mechanism allows information on the situation and needs to be passed up from the lowest local government level and for emergency relief from the Government to be distributed to the most needy wherever they are stranded or displaced. Given the geographical, demographic and logistical constraints, this system works remarkably well and it would be asking too much to expect perfection and precision everywhere.

The Government has mobilized all available resources and personnel to mitigate the suffering of the victims. It has so far distributed cash equivalent to US$710,000, plus 44,440mt rice, 7,010 biscuit tins of 10 lbs each, US$39,000 for saris and 2,500 lunghis. There are 3,373 medical teams and 919 temporary treatment centres operating in the affected areas and the Army has been engaged in emergency maintenance of highways, protection of embankments and water purification and distribution.

The Government has appealed directly to the international community for help and has warmly welcomed the international assistance received so far. It is particularly grateful that the UN is launching the Flash Appeal and keenly awaits the outcome, acknowledging that the recovery and rehabilitation phases of this disaster will stretch its own resources well beyond breaking point.

The International Community

The UN has supported the Government in response to the disaster. The Resident Coordinator (RC) activated the UN Disaster Management Team (DMT) on 18 July to coordinate UN action. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) deployed a mission and a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team to assist the DMT. UNDP has also deployed a team from its Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) to assist in the recovery effort.

At the same time, WFP, WHO, UNICEF, FAO and other UN Agencies have provided essential supplies such as water purification tablets, medicines and bleaching powder, using funds already available or diverted from existing programme resources. Additionally, the UN and partner organisations closely support the efforts of government ministries. UNICEF and WFP also launched their Emergency Programme and Emergency Operations respectively, the relevant parts of which have been incorporated into this Appeal. All UN agencies are currently assessing the impact of the floods on its normal programmes and will make adjustments accordingly.

The DER Sub-Group of the LCG, comprising UN Agencies, Government Ministries, National and International NGOs as well as Donors, has attempted to manage disaster information and coordinate assistance amongst its constituents. The DER conducted a rapid needs assessment that has been an invaluable planning tool and helpful input to this Appeal. More detailed information is available on

The Government has approached the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to review the impact of flood-related expenditure on the national budget in the near and longer-term. The Banks will assess how they might best help the Government cope with the effects of the disaster.

Numerous governments, international organisations and NGOs have allocated relief funds and goods. IFRC launched an appeal for CHF 4,350,000 on 26 July to assist 1,000,000 beneficiaries; the initial response has been encouraging.



Table I. Summary of Requirements - By Appealing Organisation and By Sector







Table II. Listing of Project Activities - By Appealing Organisation
Table III. Listing of Project Activities - By Sector














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