|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2007/ Sharmin|
|Amena (second from left) stands with her family in front of the tiny shelter where they have been living for the past month.|
By Arifa S. Sharmin
SIRAJGANJ DISTRICT, Bangladesh, 4 September 2007 – Last month, 45-year-old Amena awoke to discover that monsoon-related flooding was filling her home with rushing water. As if in a dream, she felt the strong pull of a hand as she was taken to the safety of a nearby embankment.
When she and her five family members reached the embankment with their belongings, they could see only the top of their house. Her son had saved her life.
“We have been living on the embankment for a month,” said Amena standing in front of her tiny shelter. “My house is still under knee-deep water. There is no work available and many of us are passing our days with just one meal.”
Limited food, no income
Sirajganj is one of the worst affected districts in Bangladesh. Monsoon floods this year have displaced thousands of people from their homes, which are either damaged or completely uninhabitable. Around 900 families have been forced to take shelter on the embankment where Amena is staying.
While some of the displaced have been able to return to their homes, many others are still waiting for the waters to recede. There is no work available and, as a result, most families remain underfed.
“I had a goat and three hens, which died in the floods. I am living with my family and have no income whatsoever,” Amena lamented.
Providing for basic needs
The local schools have been closed since the waters began to rise. Now UNICEF is collaborating with BRAC, a national non-governmental organization, to help distribute education kits for 36,000 flood-affected children. UNICEF is supporting the provision of other teaching and learning materials as well.
At the same time, UNICEF is working with various NGOs to reduce trauma for displaced children. For example, recreation kit bags are being provided for an estimated 30,000 children.
Since children are not in school, they are spending time playing in water and mud. This has resulted in skin diseases, fever and other water-borne illnesses. One flood victim on the embankment, two-year-old Arifa, is suffering from severe skin disease. Her father does not have any money to take his daughter to the doctor.
To help stop the spread of water-borne diseases, UNICEF is distributing water purification tablets, bleaching powders and jerry cans, as well as repairing and installing wells and latrines.
Impact on pregnant women
Pregnant women here also have a difficult time getting access to medical care, and many of them are suffering from malnutrition. Rashida, 23, is five months pregnant. She recently moved from the embankment back to her house. “I ate cooked rice with salt yesterday night. I did not eat anything else since then,” she said.
Mosammat, 25, a mother of three, is seven months pregnant and is currently trying to repair her house. She has been eating rice soaked in cold water for breakfast. “I went to visit the doctor. He was very busy with other patients and asked me to come the next day,” said Mosammat. “I spent 20 taka [Bangladeshi currency] to visit him. It is impossible for me to spend this again. I need to buy food for my children.”
In response to this situation, UNICEF, in partnership with the World Food Programme, is providing nutritious high-energy biscuits for 40,000 children as well as for 20,000 pregnant and dlactating women. A third round of biscuit distribution is planned for the near future, so that displaced mothers and children will not have to choose between food and medical care.