Resilience in the wasteland



E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.

[Photo/Banglar Chokh: Waiting for relief.]

[Abu Jar M Akkas, Bangladesh. Back from Sidr-devastated Patuakhali.]

Future looks bleak for about a thousand and a half cyclone survivors in two Mirzaganj villages of Patuakhali, at an aerial distance of about 153 KM from Dhaka, as short-term aid activities, which could ensure them a bare living for now, would hardly hand them a means to earn their living in coming days.

There are many who were partially affected by Sidr that struck the coast on November 15, yet there are many others who lost all they had — homesteads, family members and a meager living.

The villagers of Charkhali and Golkhali are now left with a dream of better days only if they are given the support they need to start farming and that too not before November, when they were supposed to harvest their aman crops which were washed away or damaged by the cyclone, as the paddy fields now lie waste.

Most of them also need to leave behind the trauma, still evident in the face of many, they had gone through on the night of November 15.

Forty-five-year-old Rizia Begum, who lives on the road passing by the villages at Subidkhali that became cratered for a stretch of about five to 10 feet every 20 feet, Friday said her house was damaged when tidal surges, whipped up by the cyclone to a height of six to eight feet, rushed in at about 10:30 PM.

All her family members clung to a floating auto-rickshaw that got stuck between the damaged house structure and an electric pole for about 10 minutes the surge lasted. When water flushed out, they found themselves half-naked. The strong current took their clothes off. And they had to search for about four hours to find a boy of the family who is one year and a half old about a quarter kilometer away.

When they took the boy home, people said he would not survive. A local physician, known as Doctor Aziz, treated the boy and he recovered. All his family members walked into the house of Aziz who provided them, along with about a hundred such people, with food and old clothes.

Like many others in the locality, she said there was no announcement on PA system about the warning. They heard it was local warning 4, which they watched on television and heard on radio. Most of them were also unaware that it was revised upward to great danger signal 10. Yet, she said, “We did not believe in the warning and did not think tidal surge would sweep us. There were many such warnings before, but nothing happened.”

Although many of them received tents, clothes and food, they all reached the villagers two days after the cyclone. By the time they had lived on food supplied by people financially better off or relatives less affected in the locality, said her husband, fifty-year-old Abdul Latif.

They remained busy looking for the dead or missing and relief supplies started reaching them. Naimul Alam, administration manager of the Youngone Corporation Bangladesh of Korea who has been managing the company’s relief operation at Mirzaganj in coordination with the administration since November 24, said, “I have surveyed all the houses in the two villages. There are about 1,200 to 1,500 people living here. Two hundred and sixteen bodies of the villagers were found. Sixteen could not be found. And all the families are affected, partially or fully.”

As goods started pouring in, the administration with the help of the villagers cut the trees blown over by the cyclone into pieces to clear the road, leading to neighboring Barguna. The villagers also repaired the road up to a certain distance towards Barguna so that people could walk by.

Some of the villagers who lost their houses received tents and they started living on their land with a bamboo structure with the tent used as the roof and a bare fencing with what they could gather. Some are not living under the open sky as the tent is there, but they have no fencing around. Abdus Sobhan and his wife, Anwara, who lived on fishing, lost their house, and they could erect a structure to spread the tent over to save them from rain and the sun.

Two girls of a middle-class family by the economic standards of the locality were digging earth with spades to repair their damaged house. They all survived by clinging to a large tree, which was also blown over, during the tidal surge. One of the girls, Sajani, a student of Class X, lost all her books. “I have lost all my books. I need the books as the exams are around the corner. Our teachers said they would give us books. But we do not know when we would get them,” she said, looking down at the earth in despair. The other girl, Baby Akhtar, a college student, just could say she wanted books.

People hustling for relief goods or medical treatment offered by non-government agencies Friday said they were better off as they could get at least two meals a day, clothes to wear and even medicines to treat minor health problems and injuries.

One of them, Yusuf Shikdar, who lives on farming and share-cropping, had stood in the long queue for a packet of food since morning. He said not many people in the area contracted diseases worth mentioning. “But we need support to carry forward. We get food, clothes and all. But we need something to arrange for the means of living for the coming days.”

“We have lost the aman crop. Now we will try to grow sweet potatoes, chillies and other such vegetables after November. And we will try to earn living for the rest of the year by working with some factories or from carpentry. But I have lost one of my cows. I need to stand on my feet again,” said another, Babul, who owns a small piece of land, looking up in the sky.

Guest blogger Abu Jar M Akkas [] is Joint News Editor, New Age.

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E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.