Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bangladeshi children play David and Goliath with a cyclone

 

Mahasen made landfall in Bangladesh on May 16, 2013, killing at least 45, destroying  thousands of huts.  The toll was less severe than feared. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this  image the day that Mahasen came ashore. Clouds are seen stretched across Bangladesh, northeastern India, and northwestern Burma. (NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz,)

Mahasen made landfall in Bangladesh on May 16, 2013, killing at least 45, destroying thousands of huts. The toll was less severe than feared.
The  Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image the day that Mahasen came ashore. Clouds are seen stretched across Bangladesh, northeastern India, and northwestern Burma.
(NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz,)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Unni Krishnan

Potkakhali,  Barguna,  BANGLADESH:

When the cyclone warning came, Mukta, 17, and her friends found a new place to play – the neighbourhood cyclone shelter.

“We were there for two days, listening to the radio,” she said, her face still showing faint signs of anxiety. “We were also playing and singing,” she said, now smiling.

Mukta’s village Potkakhali lies in Barguna district of south Bangladesh, right on the path of Cyclone Mahasen that made its landfall on May 16. Well before the event, Mukta, her buddy Mohammed, 14, and a group of children were busy telling people what to expect and what to do when the storm hits their village. In effect they contributed to Bangladesh government’s efficient evacuation plan that ensured that nobody died in this village. Over a million people had to be evacuated from the cyclone’s path, a trail that left over 45,000 houses, many schools and 128,000 hectares of farms destroyed or damaged. And 45 people dead.

Mukta and Muhammad are part of a local NGO initiative that trains children in basics of early warning and quick response. Supported by elders, the children take part in awareness generation activities as well as mock drills and warning interpretation.

“One flag is for cyclones that are less intense,” the children started singing to us, a group of visiting humanitarian workers. “Three flags mean a signal to run to the cyclone shelter.” Folk songs and skits are part of the repertoire of Mim Abason, the group in which Mukta and Muhammad are members.

“We are also trained in first aid,” Mukta said, a bit excited.

Being a trained physician I needed to test it. I pretended to be someone just rescued from water, unconscious, lying on the ground.

Four children swung into action. They turned me around swiftly, carefully positioned my head, body and legs as they should be in such a situation. The leader of the group started giving me pressure pushes.

Well, I survived. I would have, even in a real-life situation of danger.

Mukta and Muhammad know that storms will always be of part of their lives. Cyclone Mahasen is the second cyclone to hit Potkakhali in the last six years. Cyclone Sidr that left over 3500 people dead in Southern Bangladesh in 2007 did not spare the village.

Bangladesh is prone to cyclones other disasters.  During 1991 -2010, it was among the top three countries in terms of exposure to extreme weather events.

Recognising this vulnerability, the local responses in Potkakhali included mapping of disaster risks and putting in place better awareness and preparedness measures.

Since 2011 the NGO South Asia Partnership led such activities with support from Plan International and European Commission Humanitarian Office.

“A key highlight of this project is mobilisation of children and activation and support for dozens of children’s groups such as Mim Abason,” said Imam Azam Shahi, Plan’s project manager.

Mahasen came as an opportunity to test the efficacy of these plans. NGOs call it promotion of resilience.

In the village way of talking, life, after all, is not only about waiting for the big storm to pass. Storms come and go – life has to go on.

For Mukta and Muhammad life is also about playing David and Goliath, when pitched against a giant enemy whom they can defeat only with their wits.

The village wisdom will hopefully find resonance at this week’s Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction at Geneva. Under the auspices of the UN, this biannual summit is trying to find ways to make communities respond to disasters more effectively.

(Unni Krishnan is Plan International’s head of Disaster Preparedness and Response)

 

 

 

Rebuilding Kathiraveli

By Danesh Jayatilaka

in Kathiraveli, Batticaloa, SRI LANKA

Sunset in Kathiraveli village recovering from the Asian Tsunami and Sri Lankan conflict

Sunset in Kathiraveli, a village recovering from the Asian Tsunami and Sri Lankan conflict    Photo: Danesh Jayatilaka

People of this small coastal village in Batticaloa in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka know what it means to be caught between the devil and the deep sea. The 2004 Asian Tsunami devastated the village. Then their village became a flashpoint of Sri Lankan civil war that erupted once again in 2006 after a period of relative calm. For the 676 families here, mostly Tamil-speaking Hindus, a good part of the past nine years meant rebuilding lives and livelihoods destroyed by the disaster and then again by the conflict and forced migration. The accompanying photo feature is a snapshot of their story.

During the 2004 tsunami 56 people were killed and 225 families affected in Kathiraveli and nearby Puchchakerny. Most of the houses 300 to 400 meters from the sea were either damaged or destroyed by the wave, which the local people described as ‘a gigantic snake that came from the sea and went into the land, along the entire coast’. Around 136 families moved inland, especially to the newly formed Pudur village, while others were scattered inside Kathiraveli. In 2006 the conflict flared up and security forces started targeting the LTTE camps within the village. The village and the surrounding areas became a violent air, sea, and land battleground and the government requested the civilians to move into welfare camps situated in state-controlled areas.

When the LTTE was was defeated in the East in 2007 many people wanted to go back to their homes, and the government supported their return to the area. Witnessing the devastation of the village and their property was difficult for the returnees. Many of the houses were completely or partially destroyed. The government and donors then launched large reconstruction programmes to assist housing and livelihoods recovery in the area. These efforts took a number of years but were relatively successful as there was enough funding.

Five years on, houses have been rebuilt, and much of the livelihoods have been restored. The inhabitants went back to their occupations and/or found new ones. Many of the people got compensation for the losses suffered from the conflict as well as the tsunami – though there are some who did not get any. The challenge that people face now have nothing much to do with the war or the disaster, but it is all about improving livelihoods and giving a bright future for their children. Developmental and environmental woes have troubled the village ever since they came back. Life goes on peacefully here though ghosts of the past sometimes haunt the village.

 

[Danesh is a co-founder of the Centre for Migration Research and Development (CMRD) in Colombo]

 Link to the photo feature: