Mudslides hit south-east Bangladesh

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By Bonosree Sarker in Dhaka

Landslides and flash floods triggered by heavy rains struck Bangladesh's two south-eastern districts, Cox's Bazaar and Bandarban, killing over 50 people on Tuesday 15 June. Persistant rain has caused serious damage to houses directly affecting more than 12,000 people, destroying livelihoods and communication systems.

The worst rain in decades has caused mudbanks to collapse, burying thatched homes and blocking main roads. In the last few years, Bangladesh has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate-related problems.

An initial allocation of 125,874 Swiss francs (113,700 US dollars or 92,500 euros) from the IFRC's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) will enable the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) and the IFRC to deliver immediate assistance to at least 1,300 families in the area over the next three months.

Volunteers play a crucial role

The Bangladesh Red Crescent's community-based units deployed Red Crescent volunteers in the aftermath of the disaster to evacuate people to safer places, such as schools and other public buildings.

"People have not seen so much rain in the past 40 years," says Mohiuddin, a Red Crescent volunteer who risked his own life carrying out evacuations and search and rescue work.

The Red Crescent unit in Cox's Bazaar provided food and drinking water to the homeless, who took refuge in schools, colleges and cyclone shelters. Some of its volunteers also helped recover the bodies of those who had lost their lives. Mohiuddin, and other volunteers, rushed to a nearby army camp in Himchari when they heard about the landslide, helping to dig out the missing soldiers.

"It was such a terrible sight when we first saw the bodies. I can't sleep. The terrible sight reappears in my dreams," says Mohiuddin.

The work carried out by the volunteers at community level was both crucial and challenging. "They were exhausted when they returned back from the operation," says Rounak Jahan, an IFRC officer stationed at Cox's Bazaar. "They worked for the whole day in the rain, searching for those who had perished in the mud."

When it rains, it pours

During the rains, many families took refuge in cyclone shelters or schools, but others are still living out in the open without any shelter from the sun and rain.

"The damage is huge," says Jahan, who visited the affected area carry out a quick assessment of the damage.

"People will need further assistance to return to normal life. They don't have any shelter, nor do they have food or clean water. Their seedbeds and shrimp cultivation fields are underwater so they are not able continue with their usual livelihoods," he says.

Many of the displaced families' livelihoods have come to a halt. They have lost their homes and valuables. People are living in temporary shelters and their traditional means of earning an income have disappeared; the food insecurity is evident. Many in this part of Bangladesh are poor and don't have the ability to rebuild their houses without assistance. Living conditions will worsen if houses are not rebuilt before the next rainy season.

The findings of the joint Bangladesh Red Crescent and IFRC assessment team highlight that the needs include food, clothes, emergency shelter materials and household items followed by early recovery assistance in the form of transitional shelter materials to rebuild homes.

With support from the IFRC's DREF allocation, emergency food, general relief items and emergency shelter materials will be distributed to more than 6,500 people, who are most severely affected in two areas within Cox's Bazaar district.

Landslides hit hillside villages in south and north-eastern districts almost every year during the monsoon season and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted Bangladesh could lose nearly one-fifth of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.