Monsoon rains in Bangladesh have driven thousands of people from their homes [View our photo gallery]. Caritas Bangladesh is providing food to 70,000 people as well as shelter materials and sanitation. Caritas also plans to run cash- for-work programmes for communities to help repair the damage. We asked them about relief efforts so far.
What is the situation in the flood-affected areas?
Poor families dependent on day labour, share cropping, begging and rickshaws have lost their livelihoods. In Khulna in the south, people are still living in the highlands or in schools or they are migrating in search of work. Those who remain catch fish, do odd jobs for low wages, sell cows or their belongings or borrow money at high interest rates. Food, shelter, clothing and medical needs are being met by the government and aid agencies. Many houses are still standing, and people will be able to return in October, rain permitting. In Mymnesingh in the north, people have returned home. They also face a loss of income, but have begun work on repairing damaged property.
What do people need the most?
Food and livelihood support, repairing homes and better protection from future disasters. Those families who have lost livestock or their means to make a living will need help getting back on their feet. When they return home, they will not be able to afford rebuilding their houses and water sources, so will need support.
Caritas Bangladesh has worked with villagers to help reduce the impact of disasters. How has that paid off?
The impact of the floods is less in areas such as Mymensingh where Caritas has provided training on preparing for disasters, than in areas like Khulna where no such training has taken place.
In the past, Caritas has taught children to swim and how to rescue people from drowning. As with previous cyclones, Caritas teams sent out early warnings and hoisted signal flags in public places. They typically use things like the loudspeakers of mosques and temples or hand mikes or in remote areas a buffalo horn as a bugle to warn about the cyclone .
Caritas has also done emergency repair works on the flood protection embankments. A man named Francis Chisim told one of my colleagues, “As part of Caritas activities, we repaired the flood protection embankment for our village on 16 August. It has reduced the immediate damage of houses, trees and vegetable gardens of 2000 families. If we did not do it, then there would have been huge loss.”
Caritas Bangladesh has built small houses for families whose homes are washed away by floods. What makes these houses different from standard village houses?
Caritas houses have a raised and plastered plinth, pillars and a wooden frame that are strong, corrugated iron roofing, well settings of rope, corner breaching, two rooms and a corridor and a latrine. In the average village house most of those things are not present. Now, the flood waters have not entered into Caritas- built houses because they were constructed on the raised plinth. The strong pillars, cornered breaching, wooden frame and roofs have kept the house uprights.
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