By Patrick Fuller
50-year-old Fazar Ali, is no stranger to the hardships caused by the heavy rains and floods that often engulf his village when the seasonal monsoon sweeps across Bangladesh. When flooding is bad, his home district of Satkhira is always affected as it lies almost at the tail-end of the Indo-Gangetic river system. Swollen rivers flowing from neighbouring India burst their banks in Bangladesh leaving families such as Ali’s to cope as best they can.
This year, flooding in Bangladesh is affecting over 1.5 million people spread over districts that span the length and breadth of the country. Widespread displacement of rural populations began at the end of July in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar, when flash floods caused by heavy rains and tidal surges left 300,000 people marooned. The situation continued to worsen, with sustained torrential rains induced by the monsoon depression in the Bay of Bengal. One million people, including more than 200,000 children are now thought to be homeless, most of whom are taking refuge in temporary shelters set up in schools, cyclone shelters and public buildings, or on areas of higher ground such as roadsides and embankments.
Ali – together with his mother, wife and three children – has lost count of the number of days they have been stranded. When floodwaters first entered their home, they had to raise an improvised platform which somehow accommodates all the six family members. His wife has prepared a temporary cooking spot with bricks to cook two meals a day. Like most of their neighbours, Ali’s family are surviving off dry food rations consisting of pressed and puffed rice which they keep in reserve for just such an emergency. Their sanitation facilities have been totally submerged and a visit to the toilet now means travelling to a nearby bush by banana raft.
Today, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an appeal for 1.3 million Swiss francs (USD 1.26 million or EUR 877,543) to provide emergency relief to support 50,000 people affected by the floods.
”People are living in makeshift shanties or under open sky without basic food, drinking water and sanitation facilities,” says Udaya Regmi, the IFRC’s country representative for Bangladesh. “Most of them are daily wage-earners and without work, many are struggling to feed their families.”
The districts of Satkhira and Jessore have been particularly hard-hit. Around 20,000 houses in 548 villages collapsed completely, and poor farmers/share croppers have lost their investment as over 66,000 acres of standing crops have been either partially or fully damaged by the floods.
Volunteers from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in Cox’s Bazar, Satkhira and Jessore have been quick to respond, helping to evacuate people to safety as well as distributing cooked food and clothing to evacuees. Based on assessments, the IFRC’s appeal will focus on providing emergency relief in these three districts including food and non-food relief items, emergency shelter materials, latrines and drinking water. Cash grants will also be distributed to help compensate for people’s lost incomes.
According to Bangladesh’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) the Brahmaputra-Jamuna, Ganges-Padma and Meghna river systems have been flowing well above danger level since mid-July 2011. As some districts of West Bengal in India bordering Bangladesh are currently experiencing floods, the situation in south western districts of Bangladesh is expected to worsen in the coming weeks due to an onrush of water downstream.