More shelters could save many lives
Teenager Arif Hossain of Kathachhira village in Pirojpur braved the storm at danger signal 10 for four and a half kilometres with his family to reach the nearest cyclone shelter. They were turned back as it was already overcrowded.
The cyclone hit as they returned. Arif lost his life.
"The cyclone took my Arif, " sobbed his father Amzad Hossain who discovered his son's dead body three days later. "He would have remained alive today if we had got a little room inside the shelter building."
The lack of adequate number of shelters to accommodate the locals seems to be one of the main reasons behind the deaths caused by cyclone Sidr.
Villagers buried 58 people in the small village Kathachhira of Mathbaria upazila on the banks of Baleshwar river. Another 40 remain missing. Locals and rescue teams are sure most of them could have been saved had there been a shelter house at the village.
"Almost all people in the village were informed of the warning and the approaching cyclone," said Abu Saleh, a local volunteer of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS). "Many people did walk all the way to the nearest shelter at Babur Hat over four km away. However most of them had to return because the shelter was overcrowded already."
Though the official death toll is around 3000, unofficial figures are being quoted to be as high as three to four times the official toll.
The government was able to provide shelter for around 15 lakh people in 2168 shelter houses according to sources in Food and Disaster Management Ministry. This left around 33 lakh people in the coastal areas out in the cold.
Experts have already suggested that a minimum of 3,000 more shelter houses or cyclone centres need to be built in the coastal belt of the country. This could shelter people from most natural calamities.
"We started providing early warnings five days before and also hoisted the highest danger signal almost 27 hours before Sidr hit. Yet the death toll is very high,' Samarendra Karmakar, director of Met office said. He said, "Many more lives could have been saved if there had been more cyclone shelters. Around 3,000 to 3,500 shelter houses should be set up immediately for safeguarding the coastal areas people."
Red Crescent Chairman Prof M Abdur Rob also agrees that more lives could have been saved if all the people could have been accommodated in shelters.
Speaking to The Daily Star he said, "Government and non-government organisations should donate more to build more shelters as the world climate is fast deteriorating. We will set up 500 shelter houses in the coastal areas over the next three years."
A cyclone shelter can accommodate around 200 to 800 people. Only 3,976 cyclone shelters were built till the mid-nineties. Out of this 1,576 were damaged by river erosion or were abandoned due to their dilapidated condition, according to sources at the Food and Disaster Management Ministry.
Many shelter buildings in the country are now in unusable condition. Among them are 401 in Cox's Bazar, 161 in Patuakhali, 42 in Barguna, 26 in Jhalokathi, 62 in Barisal, 31 in Pirojpur, 198 in Noakhali, 106 in Feni, 7 in Bagerhat, 28 in Satkhira, 152 in Bhola, 497 in Chittagong and 34 in Khulna.
Around 700 shelters built in the sixties and between 1972 and 1979 are now unsuitable for use due lack of proper maintenance.
There are no cyclone shelters in many char islands in the south Maijer Char, Char Kukri Mukri, Char Motahar, Char Sakuchia and Char Zahiruddin where thousands of people live.