“In my whole life, this was the biggest flood I have seen,” said Kulubala, an 85 year old woman whose village in Dinajpur, Bangladesh was devastated by monsoon flooding.
“It came at night and stayed for some days. The water came up 4 foot in just one night,” she said. “At first I was thinking about how to save our things, but then I started to believe I would die.” Fragile and stooped, she can barely walk. Her son and some neighbours had to carry her 3km to a nearby shelter when the floods hit.
When she returned home after five days, there was nothing left. “When I saw the house I felt so helpless. My [late] husband built it for us,” she said. “We only managed to save two things. Our three cows and some rice. Everything else was lost”.
Kulubala is now living in a temporary shelter. “We don’t like living here. But at least it’s dry,” she said. Caritas will provide her with cash support. “When we collect the money our first priority will be to start rebuilding the house,” she said.
Even in communities accustomed to floods, 2017 was catastrophic. Nearly 8 million people were affected by the flooding in Bangladesh. At its peak, a third of the country was covered by the waters. 100,000 homes are believed to have been destroyed. Millions of hectares of crops have been wiped out.
Once floods killed thousands. Now the death toll is in the hundreds. Disaster risk reduction programmes give communities the tools they need to cope better with extreme weather. Nevertheless poverty is still high. In Dinajpur, poorer people use mud to construct house that simply washed away.
“The rain didn’t stop for 4 days. We’ve never seen flooding like that before. There was so much damage in this area. 1482 houses collapsed,” said Isahaque Ali, Chairman of the Shangkurpur Union, that comprises several villages in Dinajpur.
“When the flooding was bad, Caritas handed out food, like popped rice,” he said.
Although the government has provided rice, dry food and cash to some survivors, there are many still in need. “We have received some support for the government, but it is not enough,” said Ali. “Most people are now living in makeshift homes made out of tarpaulin. It will take us many months to recover from this”.
Caritas is looking at providing unconditional cash support, shelter and agricultural aid to farmers In Dinajpur, Caritas gave out $350,000 in cash over a 15 day period, with each family receiving roughly $50. “Some organisations are giving us food, but with the cash distribution people can buy what they need most,” said Ali.
Said Jaman is a day labourer with a wife and two daughters. “Our village was completely flooded. My extended family lived in three different houses and all of them were destroyed,” he said. “We lost everything; our rice, our beds, our suitcases”.
There is a big problem with loans in rural Bangladesh. High interest means that a loan of 10,000 taka ($125), soon will become 1,000,000 taka ($12,500). When the farmers cannot repay it, then they will have to give up their land.
“I will use this money to help buy a new roof. Without this help I would have to take out a loan, but I would be paying it back for a long time,” said Said Jaman
Caritas Bangladesh’s goal is to help 35,000 people over 6 months in Dinajpur, Manikganj, Nowgoan and Thakugoan districts.
Raising funds is difficult. The international Caritas appeal has raised less than half of the money it needs. International attention is focused on hurricanes hitting the Caribbean and the USA or on the plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for southern Bangladesh. The floods are getting very little attention, even though the needs are great.
Bubita Hemrom was one of the many in her village to receive a cash handout from Caritas. She holds on to her child, 7 month old Sagarika, in the temporary shelter they are now living in a village in Dinajpur district, Bangladesh.
“Our house and all our things are gone. Life here is not easy for us, especially with a baby. There is no space at all,” she said. Without the money from Caritas, she wouldn’t be able to rebuild her home. Thousands more like her will be left with nowhere to go unless funds can be found.
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