In Bangladesh Aila’s legacy lingers on

By Syful Islam, 
Satkhira District (BANGLADESH)   – Still awaiting the rebuilding of broken embankments 16 months after cyclone Aila hit the region, nearly 50,000 people in Bangladesh’s Khulna and Satkhira districts are living under the open sky on elevated roads, eating at best once or twice a day.
In this circumstance, Islam’s biggest festival, Eid-ul-Fitr, comes to them with little joy or happiness. 
 The devastating cyclone hit three sub-districts of Bangladesh’s southwest coastal region in May 2009, killing at least 300 people and destroying 4,000 kilometres of roads and embankments. More than 87,000 people lost their houses, possessions and traditional livelihoods.

 Today, with seawater still flooding many homes and fields, the ill-fated Aila victims remain living on the damaged embankments, surviving the rainy season in huts made of plastic sheets and bamboo. Thousands have little but rainwater or limited supplies of freshwater provided by NGOs to drink.

 With the fields under salt water, no shrimp farming or other activities can be restarted, and people have no way to earn a livelihood. Instead they depend on relief aid and try to fish in the nearby rivers.

 People say they simply want the broken embankments repaired, perhaps through food for work programs, so they can get on with their lives.

 “Once Gabura was tourist spot, as it stands just opposite the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. But people here now have no work and are living poorly,” said Mizanur Rahman, 45, who lives in a 10-foot-square (1 square metre) hut on an embankment in Gabura Union under the Satkhira district.

 Nosiron Begum, 80, is living on the same embankment with her daughter Jarina, 35, a widow who earns her livelihood begging in the nearest villages.

 “My house and lands were washed away during cyclone Aila, turning me into a beggar. I never saw such a devastating storm earlier,” said the old woman.

 Koitori Bibi, 70, the mother of a son and daughter, said her family survives on fish from the nearby river.

 “My husband is an old man. He can’t work. So we eat once a day,” she said.

 Zahura Begum, 50, the mother of two grown sons, said, “My sons are married and can’t feed their own family members as there is no work. So they can’t look after me and my ailing husband.”

 Asked how they will observe Eid, Begum said, “We are passing the days half starving. We have no money to buy clothes or to buy sugar and vermicelli. We have no Eid and no joy.”

(Syful Islam is a senior reporter with The New Nation newspaper in Dhaka, Bangladesh)