Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bangladesh ailing four years after Aila

Robert Stefanicki in IPS News: It has been four years since Cyclone Aila struck Bangladesh, triggering floods and widespread destruction. But the villagers of Koira subdistrict, among the worst affected of the 11 districts hit by the cyclone, are yet to recover from its impact. The Jaman family was among the 41,043 families in Koira affected by Aila. Like most of their neighbours, they remained homeless for eight months, surviving on supplies from humanitarian organisations.

Some 23,820 houses were totally damaged in Koira. When the waters receded, the government gave them 20,000 taka (260 dollars) each to build a new house..... But the family has no illusions; they know the next cyclone, which will hit them sooner or later from the Bay of Bengal 20 km away, will blow their new dwellings away again. Only the brick houses of the rich will survive.

But that is not their immediate concern. More worrying is the lack of a stable income. The Jamans are among the 40 percent of Bangladesh’s 155 million people who live below the poverty line. Before, it was a hand-to-mouth existence, but they never went hungry. Koira being an agricultural region, people could make a living off the land; the landless were employed by the farmers. In times of crisis, the poor could count on help from their more affluent neighbours.

Aila changed all that. Not only were 502 acres of crops destroyed in Koira, according to the damage summary by the local UNO office, but the cyclone left the fields waterlogged for three years. Now, since the water has receded, the soil has become salinated, allowing nothing to grow. The newly pauperised rich therefore are no longer willing to share with their neighbours. Nor do they employ them in their barren fields any more....

A father and son in the Sundarbans in Bangladesh in 2009, after Cyclone Aila, shot by Koustav2007, public domain

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