L-R: The affected want the embankments to be reconstructed soon. The lingering impact. Photo: Unnayan Onneshan
Most of the cyclones bred in the Bay rush to Bangladesh coast. With extreme poverty and less infrastructural development, the coastal zone habitats can't cope with the impact of disasters that ultimately result in massive loss of life and property and damage of environment.
The super cyclone Sidr swept through the upazila of Koyra on 15 November 2007 and only after one year and six months the upazila fell once more a victim to the cyclonic storm Aila on 25 May 2009. Six of its seven unions were harshly affected by this terrible storm. Except for a part of Amadi Union all of the unions got submerged by tidal surge. Its awful force breached the coastal embankments, inundated thousands of acres of arable land and washed away houses and belongings eventually leading to a lengthy tidal flood. The drift still continues. The writer recently paid a visit to Koyra Upazila of Khulna district and went through a nightmarish experience.
Impact on livelihood extended to forest: Livelihood of the coastal people has been severely affected by the tedious impact of the cyclonic storm Aila. Along with forest resource collection from the Sundarbans, agriculture was the main means of livelihood in Koyra Upazila. After more than one year although inundation is almost over, the croplands have gone out of crop cultivation because of acute salinity. According to agricultural scientists, it will take more than three to five years for the salinity to be decreased depending on the rainfall.
A great many of the displaced people are becoming increasingly dependent on the Sundarbans resources like Goalpata, fuel wood, honey, fish, crab and the like. As a result, the mangrove ecosystem has already undergone an increasing pressure on its sustainability. The new collectors are neither well-acquainted with traditional ways of resource collection nor trained for sustainably exploit the mangrove. They are forced to ride on the Sundarbans resources for their very sustenance in the face of extreme poverty and loss of own livelihood. They hardly can think of whether their activities are telling upon the health of the forest. Consequently, many a mangrove species are at stake. The regeneration ability of mangrove floral and faunal species will definitely see a gradual fall here.
Assessment of current operations: The concerned government organisations (GOs) as well as non-government organisations (NGOs) have already taken a handful of measures to mitigate the sufferings of the Aila hit people. But the initiatives couldn't improve the condition of the affected to a satisfactory level. For instance, the government initially declared to continue providing every household with 20 kg rice every month until agricultural activities resume there in full swing. Unfortunately, the programme is no more in operation.
As a part of post Aila reconstruction programme, Food and Disaster Management Ministry of the government recently provided each of almost all Aila hit families of the upazila with BDT 12,000 for rebuilding their houses. It is deeply disappointing that miscreants coming by water ways reportedly snatched the money from most of the families.
A number of NGOs are working to lessen the sufferings of the Aila affected. But they hardly can cover all affected people due to either fund limitation or shortcomings of operational system. In addition, each project is usually designed to cover a particular area. The main problem there is the lack of co-ordination among the NGOs operating different programmes in the Aila areas.
Present demands: The recent field study found that the affliction of the Aila hit people still entails unreconstructed houses, unrepaired roads, unhygienic, damp and salinated homestead surroundings unsuitable for growing any crops, unfeasibility to raise livestock, unavailability of fresh water for drinking, etc.
Succinctly speaking, the pressing demands of the locals enlist the urgent reconstruction of the coastal embankments. They apprehend that any time cyclonic storm along with tidal surge may sweep over them and everything they have collected may be washed away again.
Concluding remarks: In fact, the agony caused by Aila debacle is more likely an ultimate result of anthropogenic climate change for which we are not exactly responsible as much. The developed countries are consuming high technology products and emitting harmful gasses, thus warming the atmosphere. In contrast, we are coping with the nature's revenge. If the leaders from those developed countries do not take immediate greenhouse gas reduction measures, we will have to lose more lives, livelihoods and resources. So, there is no option left other than making the polluters pay, and the victims adapting to the changes
The writer is a young researcher at Unnayan Onneshan. He can be reached at email@example.com.