Rasheda Khatun, a woman of thirty and wife of Md. Nazrul Islam of Mollikpara village in Masra Union (West) in Sirajganj Sadar upazila could do nothing but watch flood come in last September and ruin her life. Under pressure, she was bound to sell one of her cows at low price due to food crisis of her family cattle. Six of Rasheda's goats died due to food crisis and water borne diseases carried by the flood. Those six goats had a market value of 18,000 takas, and losing them meant Rasheda had no livelihood left. She had no way of putting food on the table for her children. Then, for the first time, she heard about a concept called flood insurance. She realizes how flood insurance protects the vulnerable, because in order to recover from a disaster, one needs cash support.
Like her, flood victim farmers of Sirajganj district are now protected against the odds which come with the occupation of farming, since there is nothing to be done to prevent natural disasters. Flood insurance is a safety net program for the ultra-poor flood victims around the world. The project is a unique attempt where a meso-level flood index insurance has been designed to protect the low income, vulnerable 'Char Communities' by improving their ability to sustain and recover in a post-disaster condition.
Flood victims used to suffer continuous hardship after a flood - since after the flood water recedes, they cannot find a job immediately, and by then they've lost their livestock and crops. Borrowing loan on high interests is a temporary fix at best, since they are not able to turn that credit into productive earning since the market conditions aren't good after a flood. Whatever crops they can recover, they are forced to sell off at poor prices. Realizing the continuous odds for flood victims, Oxfam, a leading donor organization around the world initiated to install flood insurance for the ultra-poor flood victims, introduced a flood insurance scheme among 1,661 ultra-poor flood victim families of 10 villages in four unions of two upazilas in Sirajganj. The level of optimism in these farmers lives have skyrocketed since.
Vulnerable parts of Bangladesh are affected with flood commonly, often twice a year. Large floods occur in 3.3 years-cycle. There were 16 massive floods damaging livestock and property of Bangladesh from 1954 to 2007. At least 21 percent of the total cultivated land across the country is affected by floods every year, according to a survey. Sirajganj is worst affected by flood every year so the pilot project of the flood insurance began. The development partner supporting the initiative envisions greater economic stability amongst ultra-poor farmers following successful implementation of the flood insurance scheme. As many as 1,661 families living in flood-prone char areas of 10 villages in Sadar and Chowhali upazilas under the district have been brought under 'flood insurance' project, which is meant to support them during and after the natural disaster.
Under the insurance coverage, an affected family will get Tk 8 thousand if floodwater remains more than one centimetre above the danger level for 26 days at a stretch, said Md. Mamunul Hassan, Assistant Vice President of Progoti Insurance. The organization, with the cooperation of Swiss-Re, bears the risk of the insurance benefit for the flood victims. However, during the 20 months after the project's start, no one got the benefit as floodwater did not stay for that long time during the period, sources said. Under the unique project initiated in July 2012, Oxfam is paying Tk 830 as yearly premium against each of the beneficiaries. "Flood and river erosion badly affect the people of vast char areas in Sirajganj district almost every year. The victims often take loans at exorbitant interest or sell crops in advance for poor amounts, and it prolongs their sufferings. And so, we have initiated the pilot project here," said Md Nurul Amin, Economic Empowerment Coordinator of Oxfam.
Families of the coverage areas belong to six villages of Sirajganj Sadar upazila and four villages of Chowhali upazila – these are the people who were identified as most vulnerable to floods, said Md Habibullah Bahar, director of Manab Mukti Sangstha, a Sirajganj-based development organisation that is implementing the pilot project. The beneficiaries said they are now happy to be included under the project as it will help them in the case a flood hits the area. Several others, however, said the condition of water level staying one centimeter above the danger level for 26 days to get the insurance benefit seems unreasonable. Only rarely does the water level remain at such a high level for so long time. When contacted, Md. Zahid Al Amin, Oxfam Consultant, said that the proposal for reconsidering the flood level criteria is under consideration.
Such a project has the potential to benefit thousands of other farmers, and should be expanded across the country as Bangladesh is a flood-prone country. “We have shown the way with the pilot project. In the interest of farmers across Bangladesh, the government should extend their hands to introduce such flood insurance programs in other districts as well,” added Zahid Al Amin.