Recovery in Bangladesh one year after Cyclone Sidr

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One year on, the British Red Cross is helping hundreds of families who survived Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh by building new homes, but securing enough land is proving a challenge.

More than 3,300 people were killed by the cyclone on 15 November 2007, which also caused a tidal surge, devastating several coastal villages.

The British Red Cross is working with vulnerable communities in Kuakata, on the south-west coast. Hundreds of poor fishing families there live on government land, that no-one else wants as it is on the outside of an embankment and completely exposed to the sea. Their homes and livelihoods were completely destroyed when the cyclone hit.

Justin Dell, British Red Cross recovery support officer, said: "Bangladesh is a particularly disaster-prone country, and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts increasing loss of land due to rising sea levels. Rather than re-building survivors' homes in such a precarious position, we are helping more than 780 families relocate to safer ground."

Securing land

The Bangladesh government is providing the British Red Cross with plots of land in a safer area, six kilometres from the vulnerable communities' current location. So far, more than 170 new homes have been built and families have moved in.

In such a densely populated country, identifying and securing enough safe land for the families the British Red Cross is helping relocate is a slow and difficult process.

Justin said: "Land is a precious commodity the world over and after a major disaster there can be many issues identifying legal rights and access to land. Of course, the most vulnerable are usually those who never owned the land their homes were built on in the first place. In Kuakata, many local people have shown amazing generosity, donating their own land to help the poor and vulnerable families living outside the embankment. Without us even asking, more than 200 plots have been donated to our recovery programme, with no strings attached."

Livelihoods programme

Relocating is a big challenge for families, particularly as they have traditionally made a living from fishing and need to find alternative livelihoods.

The British Red Cross is providing 995 families with cash and training to help them establish livelihoods. Within households, men and women are to be trained in different skills to complement each other's income potential.

Through discussions with the communities, the livelihoods programme has been developed to include duck rearing, sheep rearing, fish farming and three different types of handicrafts - making mats, brooms and quilts. Training in vegetable gardening will also be given to all participants, regardless of their choice of livelihood activity.