Since its inception in 1973, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has responded to every single cyclone that has hit the country ÔÇô and tropical storm ÔÇ£RoanuÔÇØ that swept 14 coastal districts on May 20-21 is no different.
ÔÇ£RoanuÔÇØ might not be as intense as some of the recent massive cyclones such as ÔÇ£SidrÔÇØ and ÔÇ£AilaÔÇØ, which literally flattened to ground the areas they nudged; still a very large number of people, who are eternally vulnerable because of their exposure to the sea, have been affected by ÔÇ£RoanuÔÇØ.
A family, whose house was destroyed by Roanu, takes shelter under a makeshift shanty at Khankhanabad union in Banshkhali upazila of Chittagong
A damage assessment ÔÇô done during the 24 hours after ÔÇ£RoanuÔÇØ crossed over the coast of Bangladesh on the evening of May 21 ÔÇô suggested that at least 139,000 families in 14 districts have been directly affected. More than 500,000 people have been evacuated and taken to cyclone shelters.
A majority of these families have been robbed of everything they had. Some ÔÇô left with bits and pieces of belongings, especially houses ÔÇô went back to their areas. Others ÔÇô who lost everything to ÔÇ£RoanuÔÇØ ÔÇô stayed back in the shelters. However, it does not mean that either of these groups were in a better position than the other ÔÇô both needed help of equal extents.
So, the first challenge was to ensure four of the five fundamental human rights ÔÇô food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.
Facts and Figures
Usually, after a cyclone hits, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) channels the emergency relief through two streams: first, clothing, shelter, healthcare ÔÇô together called the Non Food Items (NFI); and secondly, survivors are given ÔÇ£Cash for FoodÔÇØ and containers for drinking water known as jerricans.
The NFI package usually includes three items: traditional clothing saree and lungi for women and men respectively; one tarpaulin for shelter for each family; and oral saline for healthcare. Until 1 June 2016 ÔÇô 10 days after the cyclone has passed ÔÇô BDRCS gave NFI packages to a total of 3,000 families in six districts. The districts are Chittagong, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Bhola, Barguna and Patuakhali.
A Red Crescent volunteer helps an elderly woman in Laxmipur during relief distribution
Until the same day, a total of 1,000 families in three districts have been given cash for food and 4,000 litres of drinking water have been distributed. The affected areas are all coastal, and because of salinity intrusion, scarcity of drinking water is severe. In some of the Roanu-affected places, the crisis is acute ÔÇô escalated further as tidal surge contaminated drinking water sources with saline water. Safe drinking water is mainly ensured using mobile water treatment plants, developed by the BDRCS.
Red Crescent NDRT members test water from a mobile treatment plant in Laxmipur
BDRCSÔÇÖs target now is to reach another 2,000 families with the cash for food by June 7. Red Crescent Youth and volunteers and members of the National Disaster Response Team (NDRT) are now working day and night to reach as many of these vulnerable families as possible.
The expenses for this part of the operation has been carried out from the 244,000 CHF (US$ 245,000) Disaster Emergency Response Fund (DREF) granted by IFRC Geneva headquarters.
BDRCS has vast experience and expertise in managing post-disaster situations ÔÇô but this does not fill in for the gap in capabilities. Since the society cannot help every victim or every affected area, choices have to be made. For example, the Banshkhali upazila under Chittagong districts has 15 unions/wards. BDRCS took emergency relief to two of those unions. Considerations and selections were made on the basis of accessibility and the extent of damage.
Therefore, beneficiary assessment is one of the most important tasks to accomplish before launching an emergency relief operation.
Door-to-door assessment is conducted by Red Crescent volunteers attached with the district level units of BDRCS. The NDRT members make sure that things remain in the right track. The district level unit offices eventually finalise the list of potential beneficiaries based on the field-level assessment.
A Red Crescent volunteer talks to Roanu survivors in Patuakhali as part of beneficiary assessment
During field assessment, volunteers usually prioritise families for selection if they have/are one or more of the following:
ÔÇ£The biggest problem that we face during beneficiary assessment is accessibility,ÔÇØ said Md. Shariful Islam, NDRT member and Gazipur Red Crescent youth chief.
ÔÇ£For example, one of the areas we covered was the remote Sandwip island. Although Sandwip is an upazila under Chittagong district, it is located right in the middle of the sea. It takes more than two hours to reach the place,ÔÇØ he said.
The island of Sandwip is nearly three times as big as the Maldieves with a similar population size.
ÔÇ£Communication is a constant struggle. The Sharikait union in Sandwip is huge. But there is no question of transport because there is no road. So, we had to walk miles at a stretch. Even the houses are literally miles apart.
ÔÇ£There are exceptions as well. In Moghdhara union, another huge union, the local union council chairman managed two motorbikes for us. He even paid for fuel. That saved our lives,ÔÇØ Shariful added.
Another NDRT member Md Tanjim Hasan, also Red Crescent youth chief of the Manikganj Unit, who was stationed in Bhola, said: ÔÇ£One of the beneficiaries thanked us for giving the money directly to their hands. She shared with us her bitter experience from the past ÔÇô how they did not get a dime as relief was being distributed through local agents.ÔÇØ
Next course of action
BDRCS has already laid plans for reaching another 8,000 families in the six affected districts. For this, at least 120,000 litres of water will be needed every day. A cash for food grant of Tk8,000 for each family to cover two months has been fixed. Under this same plan, those who have already got Tk3,000 each will be given a further Tk5,000.
ÔÇ£Most of the families that live in the Roanu-affected areas are big, joint families. Fathers and sons live with their wives and children in the same house. So, one tarpaulin for each family is not enough in many cases,ÔÇØ said NDRT member Shariful Islam.
Red Crescent volunteers load distributable relief materials on to a trawler in Chittagong
The current NFI package includes just one tarpaulin for each family. If BDRCS can gather the required fund for the next phase of the relief operation, there is a plan to include at least two tarpaulins in each of the NFI packages.
The tentative target figure for a planned National Appeal by BDRCS is around US$ 4 million. The IFRC international Emergency Appeal will now be part of this with a revised figure of CHF 2 million to support affected families in seven districts ÔÇô CoxÔÇÖs Bazar being the seventh.