Heavy flooding in southeastern Bangladesh has forced more than 20,000 people from their homes in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf districts, say local authorities.
“The homes of more than 20,000 people have been completely destroyed by the floodwaters,” Rafiqul Islam, district relief and rehabilitation officer (DRRO) for Cox’s Bazar, told IRIN, with another 84,000 homes partially damaged. “When the water recedes, many of these may also be inhabitable,” he said.
When the Bakkhali and Matamuhuri rivers burst their banks most of the displaced sought refuge in the more than 30 cyclone shelters in the low-lying area.
The newly displaced add to the more the 400,000 people already forced from their homes and unable to return due to rising floodwaters. When they will be able to return remains to be seen.
“When the water started rising, we were forced to leave our home and move to the hills. It has already been a week. My house is still submerged,” said Ainul Hoque, a resident of the Ramu sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.
So far at least seven people have died in the floods, say the authorities. Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, both coastal districts, are prone to such disasters.
The severity of recent flooding has caught many by surprise. “Never in my life have I seen such flooding. The worst cyclones never submerged such a huge area for so long,” said Abdul Quddus, a resident of Piyemkhali sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.
Quddus and his family have been living in the local cyclone centre for almost a week.
“We are surviving on water and dry food provided by the local authorities. My home is gone, along with my seedbeds. I have no idea what I will eat the rest of the year,” the 46-year-old said.
According to the DRRO, rice and shrimp farmers have been badly affected by the recent flooding, with damage to the latter sector estimated at over US$3 million so far.
“The monsoon is a critical farming season and with the seedbeds destroyed, a tough challenge awaits us. Chakaria, one of the hardest hit sub-districts in the region, provides almost 80 percent of the vegetables in this region. The people of this area will have a very hard Ramadan [beginning on 1-2 August] this year,” said Islam.
“Continuous raining of up to a week is nothing new in the monsoon. What is really surprising, however, is the unprecedented level of flooding here,” said Muhammad Babul Azam, a technical manager for CARE Bangladesh.
Widespread deforestation of nearby hills and woodlands is the likely causes, he said.
“When you flatten a hill and chop down trees, the soil is loosened. This loose soil then washes away and accumulates in the rivers and channels, reducing their capacity for holding water. Then, the rivers overflow very easily. As the channels are clogged up, the water cannot flow away,” he said.
Meanwhile, efforts to assist those affected are already under way, according to the DRRO. More than 300 tons of rice and other food relief have been distributed.
“The next phase of relief work - providing them with more food, purified water, building materials and other essentials - will start very soon,” Islam said.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department on 26 July, light to moderate rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue in the area for the next 24 hours.