In Between Cyclones

Cyclone Preparedness Program

May 08, 2014
The battered wooden planks swing under my feet, as I hurry down the narrow bridge to the jetty. ShipÔÇÖs bells are tolling and the evening prayer is clamoring from a raspy loudspeaker. Dusk has just fallen, and ferry after ferry is docking in the harbor of Dhaka. ItÔÇÖs messy and the air smells of diesel. I hold on to the fluorescent life-vest of Bangladesh Red Crescent and cut into the flow of people, bundles and motorbikes.
ÔÇ£Everything all right?ÔÇØ shouts my colleague Himadri who has just reached the wavering landing apron. I give her a thumbs up, and watch the dark ponytail bounce against her back, as she takes on the steep stairs of the ferry, where we install ourselves in the cabins.
The ferry shudders, the lights go out and the engine is rushing. A nightÔÇÖs travel lay ahead of us. WeÔÇÖre on our way to the southern part of the country, an area called Barguna, which was heavily affected by cyclone Mahasen that last spring. One and a half million people lost their homes and livelihoods.
Only months ahead of this yearÔÇÖs cyclone season, recovery after cyclone Mahasen is still ongoing. Just outside the town of Barguna, pieces of mud are passed on by the hands of men and women in a long chain to reinforce and broaden the main road. In the air, hammer strokes are echoing as housing is being reconstructed to withstand strong winds. These are all examples of cash for work systems, which aim to build more resilient communities. With acres of crops damaged by the cyclone, affected people have been struggling to make a living. Through this invention, the community has come together to address vulnerability.
At the same time, these villagers are supported by one of the worldÔÇÖs most successful community level disaster preparedness programmes, initiated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the 1970s. Through an early warning system paired with early action, which features megaphones, sirens, assistance with evacuation and rescue and emergency first aid, nearly 1.1 milllion people were evacuated to cyclone shelters prior to cyclone Mahasen.
The system is based on volunteers from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, who aretrained to assist their fellow citizens in case of a cyclone.
The statistics speak an impressive language. In 1970, half a million vanished in a super-cyclone. In the 1991 cyclone, around 139,000 people died. In 2007, 56,295 people died and went missing. Lastly, in cyclone Mahasen 17 people succumbed.
Yet, in between cyclones vulnerability persists. Next step is to be as good in strengthening resilience as in saving lives.
*Maude Fr├Âberg is a Communications and Advocacy Manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and an Alumna of the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA 19).