Bangladesh

Massive project rebuilds Bangladesh homes

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By David Snyder

The night of November 15, 2007, seems a lifetime ago for Rupia as she stands now in her newly built home. But when she turns her mind to the night that Cyclone Sidr struck her village of East Shrolia, Bangladesh, the memories surface again.

"We heard the news that a cyclone was coming," Rupia remembers. "But in this area there is no cyclone shelter."

Rupia, in yellow, barely escaped the cyclone that hit southern Bangladesh in November 2007. Working through Caritas Bangladesh, CRS rebuilt Rupia's home with concrete pillars to withstand future storms. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

As Cyclone Sidr grew to a Category 4 storm and blasted ashore in southern Bangladesh, Rupia, her husband and their two children found themselves in the midst of a nightmare.

"During Sidr I went to a neighbor's house to find shelter because the water was up to my waist," Rupia says. "But then the house was destroyed."

As the storm continued to rage, the family made their way with other terrified villagers to the firehouse. They waded more than half a mile through winds gusting to 155 mph to reach the only concrete building in the area. They arrived at 2 in the morning. When dawn broke the next day, they and thousands of others in the region looked out onto a sea of floodwater.

"We stayed there for three days. Then when the water went down we came back to our home," Rupia says. "We found everything was devastated."

Rupia and her family were not alone. Cyclone Sidr wreaked havoc on coastal Bangladesh, destroying more than 363,000 homes and damaging more than 815,000 others. In all, more than 8.9 million people were affected, and more than 4,100 were killed. The bodies of many were never recovered.

For Rupia and her family, the weeks after Sidr were filled with shock as they began trying to piece together their lives. Few homes survived the storm, but the family found refuge with neighbors, and then built a temporary shelter from the remains of their former house. Humanitarian agencies provided food and water, but living conditions were terrible.

"People were just living in temporary shelters made of plastic or whatever they could find," Rupia recalls. "The children were always anxious."

Building Back Stronger

It was then that help arrived from Catholic Relief Services' partner agency Caritas Bangladesh. Seeing the scale of the destruction-430 of East Shrolia's 630 homes were damaged or destroyed-Caritas began planning to rebuild. Construction in the village would be part of a massive effort, supported in part by CRS, to rebuild 7,300 homes in the wake of Cyclone Sidr. The first step was to involve the affected communities in the rebuilding process.

"We heard that Caritas was going to rebuild houses here," Rupia says. "They asked us to get together and decide who needed houses most."

In total, CRS funded the rebuilding of 120 homes in the village-the last one completed within nine months of the disaster. To protect against future cyclones, each home is built with 12 concrete support pillars, which provide much more strength than the bamboo and lumber most locals use in this impoverished community. Though of simple, open design, each home provides 288 square feet of safe and secure living space-more than many here have ever had.

"This house is bigger than our last," Rupia says, adding that even if another cyclone comes, she feels more secure in the home they now have. "We will try to stay in this house, because we have a strong house now."

Through what her husband earns as a laborer, Rupia and her family have been able to add a few touches to their new home-some pots and pans, two wooden beds. It is a hard life: As many as half of Bangladesh's 153 million people live below the poverty line. But for Rupia and her family, the opportunity provided them by CRS is more than they could have imagined in the dark days after Cyclone Sidr.

"After the disaster we were upset because we lost everything," Rupia says. "But when construction started on our new house, we felt that our dreams came true."