Cyclone Sidr smashed through the south western coast of Bangladesh on the evening of 15 November 2007 and left an immense trail of destruction. Thirty districts were affected, 3,363 deaths reported and over 55,000 people injured. Over half a million homes were completely destroyed, leaving millions in need of immediate shelter.
In total nearly 9 million people felt the effects of the 250 kilometre per hour winds. Livestock, crops and major infrastructure all suffered major damage. The timing of the cyclone was particularly cruel; rice crops, in some cases just days from harvest, were lost and food stockpiles decimated.
Integrated relief and recovery operation
The International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, in cooperation with the Bangladeshi Government, responded immediately to the disaster and provided urgent water and food supplies, medical aid and shelter to the worst-affected people. Immediately following the relief operation, the Red Cross Red Crescent focused on helping the affected people recover.
"This is one of largest major operations undertaken in Bangladesh and the first of its kind," says Udaya Remni, the IFRC's head of delegation in Dhaka. "After previous cyclones such as the one in 1991 we only dealt with relief. The Cyclone Sidr operation includes recovery programs. Although there were some delays, our commitment to the beneficiaries will be fulfilled and donor's money has been spent appropriately," he added.
Programs included provision of core shelters, livelihood grants, psycho-social support training, water sanitation and emergency health training to cyclone-affected people. Based on the most urgent needs, 24.5 million Swiss francs (approx. 22.2 million US dollars, 15 million euros) had been earmarked to assist 243,000 vulnerable families.
New houses that can survive a cyclone
As part of the operation 1,250 so called "cyclone core shelters" have been built. The basic structure of these core shelters is designed to survive a cyclone, providing long term security for families who previously had lost everything. Families also received cash grants, tool kits and training in how to repair the shelters. Razzak Khan (50) says; "I am feeling very good with our new house. Our social status in the village has risen and I feel secure because our daughters can live with us in safety".
Restoring dignity through privacy
Efforts to provide latrines have also had a lasting impact. With help from Bangladesh Red Crescent Youth volunteers the affected people constructed latrines with materials provided by the Red Cross Red Crescent. Noor Mohammad Khan (78) lost everything in the cyclone but speaks enthusiastically of how his dignity was restored just by learning how to build a latrine, which has afforded him privacy. "I'll never get back my former life but I feel proud of my house and especially my latrine," he says.
In Lota Baria village, Barguna District, the Red Cross Red Crescent is helping to build self-sustainability within the local community. The program is designed to provide cash grants to beneficiaries who need money to get back on their feet. 99 livelihood proposals have been approved in Lota Baria out of 235 submissions. Proposals have included the purchase of a cow and the opening of a tea shop. Other Red Cross Red Crescent activities include training volunteers in disaster management, risk reduction and psychosocial support. The emotional impact of losing family and livelihood is devastating and the psychosocial support program goes a long way to addressing the needs of the community after the immediate requirements of food and shelter are met.
Rice farmer and volunteer Abdul Razzak explains: "I helped people to move during Sidr but I want to do more. I want to be there always for the community, for my people."
Cyclone simulations help to inform people about what to do in an emergency. These drills are vital in reducing future loss of life and emphasize the importance of community members looking out for one another. The Red Cross Red Crescent is also training community members in basic first aid, injury assessment and hygiene.