Four years ago today, Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh. It claimed over 3,300 lives and injured more than 34,500 people. The government released warnings the day before, and the Bangladesh Red Crescent worked to evacuate people before the cyclone hit. Around 5,000 community volunteers trained by the organisation worked through the night to alert people using megaphones and hand sirens.
The British Red Cross has been working with communities in Bangladesh for many years to improve their levels of preparation for cyclones. More lives certainly would have been lost if communities had been less prepared – a cyclone the same strength as Sidr in 1991 killed 140,000 people.
We continue to work with the Bangladesh Red Crescent to reach vulnerable groups and communities. This helps ensure that, in future disasters, still more lives can be saved.
Safety at sea
A group particularly vulnerable to cyclones are fishermen. Many fishermen died during Sidr, often leaving their families with little source of income. We have given 300 fishermen information on how to prepare for cyclones. They are all from different boats, ensuring that their knowledge will be shared and used widely.
Abu Hanif, a fisherman, says: “I learned so many things from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society training. In the middle of the sea we can now get warning of cyclones via the radio. I know that after signal number three I have to stop fishing and come back to shore. I was given a buoy and rope, and taught how to throw it to rescue someone. I also learned first aid and am more confident about how to help injured people.”
During cyclone Sidr, hundreds of women and children died simply because the men weren’t at home to give the permission to leave the house and seek safety in a cyclone shelter. We have since been working to empower women, educate them and train them in skills such as first aid, and search and rescue. Women are also given ‘preparing for cyclones’ flip charts, enabling to share their knowledge.
Simple changes, such as tying back hair or changing from wearing a sari to baggy trousers, can help make it easier to escape a cyclone unharmed. Women are taught to bury documents, money, dried food and drinking water in a bucket attached with a rope to an empty plastic bottle. This enables them to find their basic essentials and start recovering after the cyclone passes.
Working with influential religious leaders, we have helped reduce the stigma of women being seen alone in public. Suchitra Rani, a member of a Red Crescent women’s forum, says: “As a woman, it used to be difficult to go outside on my own. I would get criticised. But since the Red Crescent has been working with us it’s become more acceptable.”
Less lives lost
In 2009, Cyclone Alia once again brought destruction to Bangladesh. But this time, people in Suchitra’s community were prepared. Suchitra says: “In our community lots of people lost their lives in Sidr, but in Aila only one died.”
It is almost certain that Bangladesh will again experience cyclones. While we can do nothing to stop these natural disasters, we can lessen the suffering and destruction they cause. By spreading simple, live-saving knowledge to people who need it most, the British Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent help people survive the storm and rebuild their lives afterwards.