Bangladesh braces for gigantic task of helping rebuild flood-stricken communities in northeast

Official estimates suggest tens of thousands of families have lost their homes and belongings in the northeast

shahria bappyshahria bappyMarium Sultanabdnews24.com
Published : 24 July 2022, 07:39 PM
Updated : 26 July 2022, 03:34 PM

Mohammad Kamrul Hossain, a resident of Netrakona’s Madan Upazila, lost his home and duck farm to the catastrophic floods in Bangladesh’s northeast. The devastation was so intense that he could not protect even his stock of paddy to feed the 200 of 700 ducks that could be saved.

“Everything was washed away. My home is in ruins. I’ve built a shed with old tin sheets to live in. It’s true I got relief materials, but no money to rebuild my home. No one in our area has,” said Kamrul.

Millions of people were marooned by the flooding, the worst in 20 years, that tore through communities in 14 districts in the Haor or wetland region in mid-June. According to government estimates, more than 85,000 homes were damaged in Sylhet and Sunamganj districts only.

The local authorities said they gave Tk 10,000 to 10,000 families each - only a fraction - in the two districts to rebuild their homes. That means tens of thousands of families have not received government aid for rehabilitation.

Amid the crisis over a shortage of fuel and price rises in the international market, Bangladesh now faces a mammoth task – rehabilitating the flood victims.

Makbul Hossain, a native of Tahirpur Upazila in Sunamganj, alleged he did not get the cash aid because the local public representative belongs to a political party that Makbul does not support. He and his family have difficulty sleeping with half of their home washed away

“How am I supposed to fix my house? I need money but I’m an old man, I’m not able to work,” said the 62-year-old man. The flash floods also swept away the crops he tried to save on a shelf.

Ekhtiar Uddin from the same village said he had 1200-1400 kg of paddy in storage which was worth at least six to eight months of his expenses. “I’ve suffered countless losses,” said the father of eight.

Two of his children were supposed to take the Secondary School Certificate tests that were deferred due to the flooding. “The floods left their education in tatters. They won’t be able to sit for the exams this year, maybe next year.”

Like Makbul, Ekhtiar also received relief materials from the government but no rehabilitation assistance.

Kashmir Reza, president of Haor Development Council, said 508 families in Tahirpur Upazila received the cash aid, while the number of affected families is more than 10,000.

The council built 80 houses until Jul 22 and plans to build 150 more. Non-government organisations built 500 houses for the flood-stricken families. “We still have 9,000 damaged houses. About 8,000 people are still in the flood shelters in Sunamganj. Assistance for their rehabilitation is urgently needed. Otherwise they cannot leave the shelters.”

Tasrif Khan, a young singer who supplied the flood-hit people with food, is now working on their rehabilitation. He said the post-flood situation is a bigger challenge. “Wherever people fled from the floods, someone’s home or the shelters, at least had roofs over them. It is only natural that those households no longer want to provide refuge. So they had to return to their homes, which are no longer there.”

“In most places, these people are sleeping on sheets in open spaces. Some built beds with pieces of wood or bamboo. At least 20,000 families are homeless.”

“We’ve surveyed 15 Upazilas over seven days. Based on that, at least 50,000 houses have to be rebuilt across Sylhet and Sunamganj. Of those, more than 20,000 were completely destroyed.”

Tasrif raised Tk 25 million for the victims last month but is frustrated that his calls for assistance in rehabilitation are going unanswered. He plans to organise charity shows to raise more funds to build at least 1,000 houses.

“We received Tk 10 million in only 24 hours when we started to raise funds. But we got only Tk 281,000 over two days now. People turned their attention away as the floodwaters have receded and the issue is no longer viral. Literally no one is paying attention.”

“It is possible to distribute Tk 20 million worth of food to many people. We gave that to almost 18,000 families. We almost had Tk Tk 3 million in hand after distributing food. We’ve built 53 homes so far with each costing around Tk 50,000. They are made of tin, wood and iron.”

GOVERNMENT EFFORTS

Apart from Tk 100 million allocated from the Prime Minister's Relief and Welfare Fund in Sylhet and Sunamganj in the first week of this year, no significant initiative has been taken by the disaster management and relief ministry for the rehabilitation of the flood-stricken people.

According to the ministry, from Jun 15 to Jul 7, 4,000 bundles of corrugated tin sheets and Tk 12 million in cash have been released in Sylhet and Sunamganj districts.

In addition to this, 4,600 metric tonnes of rice, Tk 91.50 million in cash and 87,000 packets of dry food were allocated to the people of 13 flood-affected districts during this period. Among them, 1,700 metric tonnes of rice, Tk 30 million cash and 20,000 packets of dry food were given in Sylhet, while Sunamganj was allocated the same amount of money, 1300 metric tonnes of rice and 28000 packets of dry food.

On Jul 20, the ministry allocated 49,309 more packets of dry and other food to 21 districts of the country as humanitarian aid to help the victims of various natural disasters including floods.

The final decision on rehabilitation will be taken after discussing the extent of damage in a joint meeting of ministries next week, said Md Selim Hossain, a spokesman for the disaster management and relief ministry.

“The rehabilitation will start now, relief has already been given. The roads will be constructed, farmers will get seeds. Everything will be done once the scale of the damage is assessed.”

‘DISCONNECT’

Since the beginning of relief operations in Sylhet, allegations have been rife about a lack of coordination. People gave relief wherever they could. As a result, some families received relief more than once, while some did not receive it.

Tareq Mahamud Sajib, country director of the Al-Khair Foundation, has been working in Sylhet, Sunamganj, and Habiganj since the onset of the flash floods.

When asked about his experience, he told bdnews24.com, "Let me give an example, we went to Tahirpur, where we're taking a little rest for three hours after giving handouts. We found nine trawlers at that time giving relief at the same place. Some came with Khichuri (a turmeric-spiced hodgepodge of rice and lentil, sometimes with vegetables), and some came with dry food. There was no coordination."

He thinks people do not contact the administration for help because they do not feel obliged to do so.

Tareq also cited the instance of the handling of the 2017 Rohingya exodus, the fastest growing migrant crisis of the time. Volunteers had to report to the army at a check post and the army, who had lists of people receiving the aid, was able to direct the aid workers to the places where there was a shortage of relief materials. “We don’t have any such check posts now. People are going wherever they wish to. The government could have formed a monitoring cell. In the future, we can have better coordination.”

Pallab Hom Das, acting Upazila executive officer or UNO in Zakiganj, said it was difficult to control the volunteers. “There wasn’t much overlapping when we got and distributed the aid.”

Sunamganj Deputy Commissioner Md Jahangir Hossain said the victims in the easily accessible areas received aid several times while those in the remote areas did not get any because many of the volunteers were reluctant to use boats. “But we tried to make the distribution equal.”

He claimed the authorities set up checkpoints at the entries to Sunamganj from Jun 19 to Jul 3. “But it was difficult to make people distribute aid through the administration.”

Sylhet Divisional Commissioner Muhammad Mosharrof Hossain refuted the allegation of a lack of coordination in aid distribution. The authorities formed coordination committees at the Upazila level, according to him.

He does not think it will be possible to make it mandatory for volunteers to inform the coordinators about aid distribution.

“If you come with Tk 10,000 of your own and distribute it among 10 people, we cannot make you [inform us].”

[Reporting by Marium Sultana; writing in English by Syed Mahmud Onindo and Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder and Biswadip Das]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher