(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cyclone Aila recovery slower than Sidr

Many Aila victims will likely not be able to return to their homes before the end of the monsoon rains in late september

Survivors of Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh face a longer recovery period than those of Cyclone Sidr, a comparatively larger storm that struck almost two years ago.

“Aila struck in many of the same areas where Sidr struck, but Sidr survivors could resume their lives earlier as water receded quicker,” Hans Diederik Spruijts, chief of the water and sanitation section for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN in Dhaka.

“The extent of humanitarian and long-term damage caused by Sidr was much lower than that of Aila,” Kaiser Rejve, humanitarian programme coordinator for OXFAM, an international British humanitarian NGO, agreed.

Almost 250,000 Aila survivors in six unions (cluster of villages) of Da Kope, Koira and Shyam Nagar sub-districts of Khulna District remain marooned and live in temporary shelters exposed to the sun, rain and sea, he added.

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Two storms

Some 3.9 million people were affected when Aila slammed into southern Bangladesh on 25 May 2009, killing 190 and injuring more than 7,000.

More than 600,000 thatched houses in 11 of the country’s 64 districts were damaged or destroyed by the storm, which damaged about 350,000 areas of land, 5,000 educational and other institutions, 8,800km of roads and 157 bridges and culverts.

On 15 November 2007, 3,400 people were killed and millions more rendered homeless by Sidr – now described as the most powerful cyclone to strike the impoverished low-lying nation in just over 15 years.

According to the Bangladesh Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, some nine million people were affected by the category four storm in 30 districts.

Damage to property, livestock and crops was estimated at US$1.7 billion.

But despite that Sidr survivors also recovered quicker - a credit to the massive international relief effort.

“Sidr was big and its damage was extensive. But the recovery was large and quick too. That did not happen this time. Relief is coming, but its distribution is sloppy,” Zia Uddin, chairman of the Dubla Fishermen Group, with about 300,000 members, said.

“As many of the affected areas are still awash with daily sea tides neither government officials nor NGO workers feel encouraged to reach those who live in virtually marooned villages far from the paved roads,” he claimed.

Others maintain the government may have been too cautious in appealing for assistance.

Although no formal international appeal was made after Sidr, the government did welcome foreign assistance and the international community was quick to respond. By the end of January 2008, $263 million had been received.

A man in coastal Bagerhat District grieves for the lost of his loved ones in the wake of Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh in November 2007

A man in coastal Bagerhat District grieves for the lost of his loved ones in the wake of Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh in November 2007
Monday, October 6, 2008
Humanitarian costs of climate change unpredictable
A man in coastal Bagerhat District grieves for the lost of his loved ones in the wake of Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh in November 2007

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed 3,400 people. In May this year, Cyclone Aila killed 190 (file photo)

Climate change appeal

On 19 July, the government of Bangladesh announced it was seeking $1.15 billion in global assistance to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on a long-term basis, especially in the coastal districts that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“We appealed for assistance from the international community mainly for construction of embankments, cyclone shelters and cluster villages for the landless people,” Food and Disaster Management Minister Abdur Razzaque, said.

“We did not appeal to the international donors for relief this time [for Cyclone Aila],” Razzaque said. “We wanted to address the problem with our own resources, so that we could appeal to the donors for long-term assistance to face up to the challenges of climate change that threaten the very existence of Bangladesh.”

Makeshift shelters

Meanwhile, two months on, thousands of Aila survivors continue to struggle. Despite government claims that many have since returned to their homes, in reality, according to local media reports, tens of thousands continue to live in makeshift houses along roadsides and embankments. Their prospects for resuming local livelihoods – critical in the recovery process – are particularly bleak.

“At least two consecutive crop seasons will be lost due to the lack of cultivable land and fresh water,” Shudhangshu Baidya, chairman of Bani Shanta union of Da Kope Sub-district of Khulna District, told IRIN.

Adding to their troubles are the monsoon rains that have followed Aila. More than 1,400km of levees and dikes constructed in the 1960s to protect agricultural and inhabitable land were washed away in the storm, leaving hundreds of villages and tens of thousands of acres of croplands and shrimp beds exposed to sea water. It enters these areas twice a day with the tide, making them inaccessible and unsuitable for any agricultural work.


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