Late rains prolong floods misery in southern Bangladesh

After the wind and rain from Tropical Cyclone Komen passed, Kulsom Begum left the cyclone shelter ready to clean up. But more than a month on, the entrepreneur and her family have still not been able to return home to Notun Para, in Cox’s Bazar. Their house is still flooded because of continuing monsoon rain in south-eastern Bangladesh.

For now, Kulsom, her four young children and her husband, who has a disability, are staying with her brother, where they received help from the Bangladesh Red Crescent’s Tropical Cyclone Komen emergency operation.

At the cyclone shelter, they could only afford to eat one meal a day. But Kulsom isn’t worried about a shortage of food. She’s just glad they’re all alive.

“My youngest son nearly drowned. Even though he was rescued, his face was badly hurt,” she says, weeping.

The Red Crescent relief package includes a cash grant of 3,000 Taka (USD 38) which Kulsom will invest in her business selling vegetables at the market, so she can earn enough to sustainably feed her family.

“This is exactly what I need at this moment,” she says.

She’s also grateful for the oral rehydration salts from the Red Crescent, which will treat the twins’ diarrhoea from drinking contaminated flood water. Her own supply of salts had run out.

The disaster began at the end of June when floods inundated hundreds of villages and left more than 200,000 people stranded across the districts of Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and Bandarban. The situation worsened when Cyclone Komen made landfall on July 30, causing further damage to areas that were already struggling to cope with the aftermath of the floods. These disasters have affected more than 1.5 million people and destroyed about 30,000 homes.

On 24 August, the IFRC launched an emergency appeal seeking 856,924 Swiss Francs (USD 911,000) to deliver humanitarian assistance to a total of 32,500 people.

“Our appeal for assistance is critically under-funded”, explains Bangladesh Red Crescent Society Secretary General BMM Mozharul Huq, “We desperately need more support so we can assist vulnerable people including children, women, people with disabilities and older people. Cyclone Komen made a bad situation even worse. There are high levels of vulnerability in these communities which must not be neglected.”

Ali Ahmed, his five sons and his wife were rescued from the rising flood waters by Red Crescent volunteers. After a few days at the shelter, they returned to find their house had collapsed, their farm animals swept away and some belongings looted.

For Ali, who is a cycle rickshaw puller, one of the hardest things to cope with was the loss of saplings he had planted before the disaster which were ripped out by the cyclone’s winds.

“It will take 20,000 Taka (USD 256) to repair my house. The cash grant means a lot as usually my income is not more than 150 Taka (USD 2) a day. I want to repair my homestead and fence with this grant and buy food for the family.”

Another neighbour, Lucky, went into labour when Cyclone Komen brought flood waters gushing into her house.

She delivered a beautiful baby girl in the midst of the disaster.

“I was asking God why he has to pick this day for the disaster,” says Lucky, whose husband is a day labourer in Chittagong and was on his way home for the birth.

Lucky’s neighbour, Kawser, is like a sister to her. She helped the new mother and the new-born reach a Red Crescent vehicle evacuating people in danger to the closest cyclone shelter.

“I did not wait for a single minute,” says Kawser. “Lucky placed her new-born in a plastic basin and held it with all her strength.”

Two years ago, both of Lucky’s sons died of pneumonia. At the time she had no money for doctors.

After receiving a cash grant from the Red Crescent, she says, “I will save the 3,000 Taka from the Red Crescent for my daughter so I can take her to doctor whenever she needs it”.

Lucky says the Red Crescent volunteers are the reason her daughter is alive today. She named her Hayat, an Arabic word that means ‘life’.