UN Joint Mission visits cyclone survivors in Bangladesh
By Zafrin Chowdhury
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 23 November 2007 – A week after Cyclone Sidr pummelled Bangladesh, the survivors are struggling to pick up the pieces. A roof overhead, food, water and sanitation are the most critical needs.
The Government of Bangladesh, with support from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, is accelerating relief efforts, which have reached all but a few remote areas.
“Even in the face of repeated natural disasters, the people of Bangladesh once again demonstrated their resilience,” UNICEF Representative Louis-Georges Arsenault observed after his recent visit to the worst-affected districts as part of a Joint UN Mission. “People are making utmost efforts to recover.”
UN Resident Coordinator Renata Lok Dessalien, World Food Programme Representative Douglas Broderick and Dr. Marc Belleman of the Food and Agriculture Organization also took part in the UN Joint Mission, visiting remote areas in Patuakhali, Barguna and Bagerhat districts.
Stories of survival
Members of the UN mission joined in distributing bags of food supplies to people who eagerly queued up at local relief centres. The team stopped along the way to listen to the stories of cyclone survivors.
One survivor, Hamid, spoke of losing his house and belongings in Charkhali village. “A gust came from the west. In about 15 minutes the water came, wave after wave,” he recalled at the site of his former home. “The next wave swept us to the top of that tree. We held on all night and did not climb down until the water was gone.”
In Bagerhat, a massive iron jetty was sitting on top of flattened houses and shops 200 feet from the shore, a testament to the force of the storm that hit the coast of Bangladesh. “The sea just picked it up and brought it crashing down,” said Rashid Miah, a local resident.
The UN mission also heard stories of great sprit and valour, including that of Rowshan Ara, a woman who rescued over a dozen villagers from drowning on the catastrophic night the cyclone struck in Mirjagonj, Patuakhali.
UNICEF’s emergency response
In Cyclone Sidr’s aftermath, relief must reach hundreds of thousands of survivors to help them fight back the looming threats of starvation, disease and winter chill. Children are at the core of UNICEF’s emergency response, and the agency is substantially scaling up its support in nutrition, water and sanitation, hygiene, essential medicines and child protection.
UNICEF is supplying 92 metric tonnes of nutritious BP5 biscuits to aid 15,400 children and 11,600 pregnant and lactating women in six of the worst-affected districts. Blended food for children will follow in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, essential medicines have been stockpiled to manage the risk of disease outbreak.
In addition, UNICEF has moved two mobile water-treatment plants to affected districts, and two more are on the way. The Department of Public Health Engineering is using UNICEF cash assistance to buy some 110,000 jerry cans with safe water, and to repair water points.
And as winter gradually sets in, UNICEF is procuring non-food assistance to reach children in need with 100,000 blankets, 60,000 items of children’s clothing, 60,000 family kits and 60,000 plastic sheets for temporary shelter.
Child-friendly spaces established
An unknown number of children have lost either one or both parents to the cyclone. “Separated and unaccompanied children are living without care, security and support facilities,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Aissa Sow. “These children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”
UNICEF and its partners, including Save the Children, have already established child-friendly spaces in the three most affected districts and have begun the process of tracing and registering children.
Finally, of the estimated 1 one million primary school-age children affected by the cyclone, some 600,000 are currently not in class because school buildings have been either damaged or destroyed, or are serving as shelters.
While refurbishing schools to build back better will take longer, UNICEF intends to support the government and partners in setting up temporary learning centres, where children can resume their studies and return to normalcy with minimum disruption.