Thousands in Bangladesh face a daily struggle for survival in the aftermath of Cyclone Roanu

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By: Rajib Bhowmick, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

Lifa Akhter, a first grader living in Chachra village in the coastal district of Bhola, is too young to fully understand the consequences of the cyclone that struck her village. The only thing that matters to her is that the school she loves going to with her friends is now closed.

“One morning there was a big storm. All my books and school uniform are gone,” said Lifa.

On 21 May, Cyclone Roanu brought strong winds, heavy rains and tidal surges when it made landfall along the coast of Bangladesh. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people were left homeless and 75,000 houses were destroyed. Strong winds of up to 90 kilometres per hour wreaked havoc in the village of Chachra, leaving widespread devastation in their wake.

“It looks as if the entire area has been flattened by a bulldozer. None of the tin or thatch-roofed houses in the area are left standing,” said Ziaul Himel, a member of the National Disaster Response Team of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, who is currently stationed in the district.

Lifa’s home in Chachra was destroyed by an uprooted tree. She and five other family members currently now live under the shelter of a plastic tarpaulin provided by the Red Crescent. A few days after the storm, each family in the village also received cash grants from the Red Crescent to purchase food. Ten kilograms of rice were also provided to each household by the local union council but the supplies are running out fast and are enough for just 10 days.

“I don’t know what I will do after the relief materials are finished,” said Lifa’s father, 35-year-old Mohammed Ayub, who sells kitchen utensils door-to-door for a living.

“I used to earn around 300 to 350 Bangladeshi Taka (4.00 – 4.50 US Dollars) per day. My family lived on that income. I don’t have any savings. The storm destroyed my stock and there is no one left in the village who can buy anything,” Ayub explained.

Before Cyclone Roanu, 50-year-old Mohammed Lokman was one of Ayub’s customers. The storm had ripped up a tree that not only destroyed his house but also killed his wife.

“If the storm had hit during the night, we would have gone to the cyclone shelter. But because it came during the day, we stayed behind. That was why my wife got killed when the tree fell on our house,” said Lokman, weeping.

Lokman also lost his job after Roanu destroyed the crops in the local fields where he worked as a day labourer. Without any source of income, he and his family of five have been living on the fast-depleting supplies provided by the Red Crescent and the local union council. The shortage of food forced him to send his 17-year-old son, Sohel, and 11-year-old daughter, Ruma, to a relative’s house in Chittagong district.

Along with several other homeless families from the village, Lokman and his 8-year-old son now live in one of the very few concrete houses that survived the cyclone. Without immediate support in the form of shelter materials, cash for food and livelihoods, thousands of families in the coastal districts of Bangladesh face a grim future ahead.

This week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal of two million Swiss Francs (around two million US Dollars) to assist 55,000 people affected by the cyclone. The appeal will support the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in meeting people’s most urgent needs including food, essential household items like water containers and tarpaulins and toolkits for emergency shelter. The appeal will also ensure access to safe drinking water and includes the distribution of cash grants to help restart people’s livelihoods. Health promotion and awareness activities will be carried out in communities to reduce the spread of vector and water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, which are common in the aftermath of such disasters when water supplies have been contaminated and poor environmental sanitation poses health risks.