|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2007/ Siddique|
|Reshma and other flood survivors collect UNICEF-provided high-protein biscuits in a rural area of Sirajganj.|
By Cate Heinrich
SIRAJGANJ DISTRICT, Bangladesh, 14 August 2007 – The devastation caused by the monsoon flooding of last month is visible throughout Bangladesh, but nowhere more than on the faces of the survivors themselves in Sirajganj, a flood-stricken northwestern district.
For now, the only place they can call home is the edge of an embankment, one of the few spots high enough to escape the water that has submerged the surrounding villages and destroyed their homes and livelihoods.
More than 9 million people in 39 districts of Bangladesh have been affected by the recent floods. Reports indicate 117 deaths from the flooding, most of them children. In hard-hit areas, children are also suffering from hunger and undernutrition.
In Sirajganj, UNICEF is working closely with the World Food Programme and non-governmental organizations to provide emergency supplies such as high-protein biscuits to communities affected by the emergency.
“I know that the biscuits are nutritious and my child needs to eat them,” said one young mother here, Reshma, 18. “My family is having a lot of problems finding food, as I do not have a job and my husband cannot do his normal work.”
Basic shelter and protection
Reshma has been living on the embankment with her 18-month-old son Hriday and her husband’s family. Her temporary shelter consists of a cramped, makeshift tin shed.
Sonika, 30, is also living on the embankment with her three children and husband. “My husband is a rickshaw puller and currently he has no work,” she said. “The staff here gave me a receipt to come and collect these biscuits. I am so happy because my child is very hungry and now he will have something to eat.”
In another community in the Bayaitara area of Sirajganj, flood survivors have been forced to live at the edge of a dam. Many of these villagers have little material with which to build their shelters and no protection from the rainy weather.
“We had to borrow some plastic from our neighbour because we had no shelter,” explained one displaced resident. “I do not have a tin shed but now I am very happy because we can make our shelter from this plastic sheet.”
Ongoing crisis response
In the aftermath of the initial crisis, the most urgent needs are for food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and shelter. Along with the Department of Public Health and Engineering, UNICEF has deployed 10 mobile water treatment plants for communities in need of safe water. Thanks to the widespread availability of oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, deaths caused by diarrhoea have been averted so far, despite 15,000 reported cases.
UNICEF has also been distributing kits filled with basic necessities such as sleeping mats, bed sheets, washing powder, water purification tablets and towels. However, much more relief work needs to be done.
“It is critical to recognize that in this situation the children and women, especially children of female headed households, are the most affected,” said UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Louis-Georges Arsenault. “Our assessments of the situation confirm that there are some very specific needs ... such as for special nutrients for children, pregnant and lactating women, which must continue to be addressed.”