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A life lived in ‘exit mode’ – floods continue to bring destruction

© UNICEF Dhaka/2007
A marooned mother and her child look through the window of their sunken home in the Rajbari District.

By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 21 September 2007 – Even as they are beginning to piece their lives back together, residents of Bangladesh are bracing themselves for a second round of flooding in as many months. Many houses have bamboo rafts tied close to their homes, symbolizing a life lived in ‘exit mode’.

“We are already flooded for the second time. The water level is increasing daily by at least two inches,” said 38-year-old Momtaz Begum who lives in the district of Manikganj.

Ms. Begum’s husband, who used to pull rickshaws, is now out of work and suffering from skin ailments which they are treating with saltwater since they cannot afford the luxury of visiting a doctor.

As an immediate response, joint UN Disaster Emergency Response Rapid Need Assessment teams rushed to eight districts to assess the short and medium-term needs of the affected people.

A team consisting of UNICEF staff as well as partners from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) recently visited the districts of Manikganj and Magura. There, they held a series of meetings with officials to asses the most pressing needs and report what action would be required.

“We are prepared to face a second onslaught if it comes,” said Chairman of the Jionpur Union in Manikganj, Shamsul Haque.” We are ready to successfully carry out emergency evacuation.”

© UNICEF Dhaka/2007
Although schools in many districts have reopened, children must still brave dangerous floodwaters in order to attend.

Unemployed and aid-dependent

Mr. Haque said the floods in August left at least 200 families permanently displaced, with more than a thousand families bring partially displaced.

“Most displaced people are now extremely aid-dependent, mainly due to want of employment,” said the Chairman. 

Fathers and husbands have left their homes in search of work, but a sizeable number have already returned after failing to get work in urban areas.

“Our own farmland has been submerged, so my husband now works in croplands owned by others,” said Aleya Khatun, a mother of three in the Daulatpur Upzilla in Manikganj. “We do not know where we will go if the water increases further.”

Children need urgent attention

Though many schools in Manikganj have resumed operation, students are often still unable to attend classes. Children are suffering from skin ailments and conjunctivitis as well as emotional trauma and need medical and psychological help urgently.

Seven-year-old Sharif, a student at a local NGO-run school lamented, “Classes have resumed in our school. But all our playing fields are now under water, so we are totally unable to play.”

Student Mosammat Nasrin lives with her family on an elevated wooden shaft built inside her home and is unable to attend school due to the floods.

“Our staple now is rice and mashed vegetable like ‘kochu’ which often grows without care and can be had for free,” said Mosammat. “But who thinks of culinary luxury when one’s home is lost to the waters?”



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