Braving climate risk: Food security and alternative livelihood hold the key

October 26, 2010

Editorial, The Daily Star, October 23, 2010

Bangladesh being one of the nations perilously exposed to the threat of climate change, it needs to develop strategies to cope with the unfolding climate change-related calamities like tidal surges, cyclones, floods, droughts, downpours and so on. And since it is the poor who always bear the brunt of these vagaries of nature, the coping or adaptation strategies must place their realities at the centre stage of climate change concerns.

In the circumstances, the coping and adaptation strategies will have to make provisions to reduce the risks the poor are exposed to and build their resilience in the face of the unfolding disasters.

One of the gravest risks to our population that would come in the wake of climate change is food shortage, since traditional farming will be severely affected resulting in crop failures. And with our food security already facing serious challenge from overpopulation, climate change threatens to render the situation more difficult.

Keeping all these complex issues in view, the government and its development partners have been developing various adaptation strategies, especially for the section of the population most vulnerable to the problem.

Recurrent tidal surges, floods, droughts, increasing salinity. etc will force people to change their settlement styles and livelihood patterns. The government organisations and other bodies working to help the vulnerable section of the population will have to provide them with housing facilities that can endure the floods and cyclones and alternative means of living suited to changed farming practices and other livelihood-related activities.

At a recently held workshop organised by a UK-based organisation named ‘Practical Action, Bangladesh’ in the city dedicated to helping the poor develop resilience against climate change, stress was given on food security with diversification of livelihood options through the use of new technologies. And to implement the strategy, community-based activities and involvement of the local government bodies as well as the service providers were given the highest priority.

In fact, the vulnerable section of society needs to be made amply aware of the nature of the dangers they would be facing before they could be effectively mobilised to meet the challenges of climate change. Alternative livelihood will necessitate search for new resource base for sustenance of the population, which at the same time has to be sustainable. And since the different aspects of the challenge are emerging in phases, the approach to tackle them should advisably be a multi-pronged one.

The good news is the people have already proved their resilience in braving the natural calamities that have recurrently struck them. The added burden of climate challenge will only put them through a new test of endurance and adaptation. If the government and others concerned can provide them with the necessary support and know-how to cope and adapt, the people will also be able to take the new challenge in their stride.


10 Satkhira villages flooded as dyke collapses

October 26, 2010


The Daily Star, October 26, 2010

At least 10 villages in Munsiganj and Romjan Nagar unions under Shyamnagar upazila were inundated as water entered the area through the collapsed embankment on the Mirganj River by heavy pressure of water due to violent tide on October 23 night.

The embankment covering 100 yards at Bhetkhali went into the river due to heavy pressure of water caused by high tide.

The affected villagers are trying to reconstruct the damaged embankments on self-help basis but they failed due to heavy pressure of water following violent tide of the river.

The affected villages are Jyotindra Nagar, Chhoto Bhetkhali, Boro Bhetkhali, Tangrakhali, Mirgang, Parshekhali, Romjan Nagar, Dhumghat and two other adjoining villages in Padmapukur union.

Over 5,000 people of the villages in the two unions were marooned and they took shelter on high lands in the areas. Fishes worth Tk 20 crore were washed away as shrimp enclosures on 4,000 acres of land were inundated, Zillur Rahman of village Jyotindra Nagar said.

The vast areas covering 10 villages in the unions were flooded following collapse of the embankments at the point on the Mirganj River by heavy pressure of water due to violent tide, he said.

Executive Engineer Mujibar Rahman of Satkhira Water Development Board (WDB) Division-1 said the embankment was devoured by the river due to strong current.

Local people are trying to reconstruct the collapsed embankments but failed due to heavy pressure of water, they said.


Climate Vulnerability: Bangladesh at highest risk

October 19, 2010

The Daily Star, October  20, 2010

South Asia is the world’s most climate-vulnerable region, its fast-growing populations badly exposed to flood, drought, storms and sea-level rise, according to a survey of 170 nations.

Of the 16 countries listed as being at “extreme” risk from climate change over the next 30 years, five are from South Asia, with Bangladesh and India in first and second places, Nepal in fourth, Afghanistan in eighth and Pakistan at 16th.

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index, compiled by a British-based global risks advisory firm, Maplecroft, is intended as a guide for strategic investment and policymaking.

The barometer is based on 42 social, economic and environmental factors, including the responsiveness of government, to assess the risk to population, ecosystems and business from climate change.

South Asia is especially vulnerable because of changes in weather patterns that result in natural disasters, including floods in Pakistan and Bangladesh this year that affected more than 20 million people, Maplecroft said.

“There is growing evidence climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of climatic events,” the firm’s environmental analyst, Anna Moss, said.

“Very minor changes to temperature can have major impacts on the human environment, including changes to water availability and crop productivity, the loss of land due to sea-level rise, and the spread of disease.”

Bangladesh is rated No1 because of a double whammy. It has the highest risk of drought and the highest risk of famine.

It is also struggling with extreme poverty, high dependence on agriculture — the economic sector most affected by climate change — and a government that is the least capable of coping with climate impacts.

As for India, “almost the whole (of the country) has a high or extreme degree of sensitivity to climate change, due to acute population pressure and a consequential strain on natural resources,” Maplecroft said.

“This is compounded by a high degree of poverty, poor general health and the agricultural dependency of much of the populace.”

China (49th), Brazil (81st) and Japan (86th) were among countries in the “high risk” category.

The “medium risk” category included Russia (117th), the United States (129th), Germany (131st), France (133rd) and Britain (138th).

Norway led the group of 11 nations considered at least risk, which is dominated by fellow Scandinavians as well as the Netherlands, which has worked hard to defend its low-lying land from rising seas.

Maplecroft published a climate vulnerability index in 2009 that placed 28 nations at “extreme risk”, headed by Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Burundi.

However, the 2009 and 2010 indices are not comparable, Maplecroft’s Fiona Place said.

The new index, largely reworked, uses three “sub-indices” that focus especially on a country’s ability to respond to climate change stress.

“The most serious vulnerabilities to climate change are found in a group of developing countries with socio-economic systems ill-equipped to address development challenges such as food and water security, in addition to being burdened by unstable economies and weak institutions,” Place said in an email exchange with AFP.

“This is the case for a large number of countries, with southern Asia and Africa of particular concern.”

Our Commons Future Is Already Here

October 16, 2010

A stirring call to unite the environmental and global justice movement from Maude Barlow

by Maude Barlow, On the Commons

Maude Barlow gave this stirring plenary speech, full of hope even in the face of ecological disasters, to the Environmental Grantmakers Association annual retreat in Pacific Grove, California. Barlow, a former UN Senior Water Advisor, is National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project. “Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now.”

We all know that the earth and all upon it face a growing crisis. Global climate change is rapidly advancing, melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, and displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban slums. Almost every human victim lives in the global South, in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The atmosphere has already warmed up almost a full degree in the last several decades and a new Canadian study reports that we may be on course to add another 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

Half the tropical forests in the world – the lungs of our ecosystems – are gone; by 2030, at the current rate of harvest, only 10% will be left standing. Ninety percent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise “there is no blue frontier left.” Half the world’s wetlands – the kidneys of our ecosystems – were destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate one thousand times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward a “biodiversity deficit” in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than Nature can create new ones.

We are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water, the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. A comprehensive new global study recently reported that 80% of the world’s rivers are now in peril, affecting 5 billion people on the planet. We are also mining our groundwater far faster than nature can replenish it, sucking it up to grow water-guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities that dump an astounding 200 trillion gallons of land-based water as waste in the oceans every year. The global mining industry sucks up another 200 trillion gallons, which it leaves behind as poison. Fully one third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. A recent global survey of groundwater found that the rate of depletion more than doubled in the last half century. If water was drained as rapidly from the Great Lakes, they would be bone dry in 80 years.

The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human threat humanity has ever faced. As Vast areas of the planet are becoming desert as we suck the remaining waters out of living ecosystems and drain remaining aquifers in India, China, Australia, most of Africa, all of the Middle East, Mexico, Southern Europe, US Southwest and other places. Dirty water is the biggest killer of children; every day more children die of water borne disease than HIV/AIDS, malaria and war together. In the global South, dirty water kills a child every three and a half seconds. And it is getting worse, fast. By 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by 40%— an astounding figure foretelling of terrible suffering.

Knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment, pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geo-political ramifications. Rich investors have already bought up an amount of land double the size of the United Kingdom in Africa alone.

We Simply Cannot Continue on the Present Path

I do not think it possible to exaggerate the threat to our earth and every living thing upon it. Quite simply we cannot continue on the path that brought us here. Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. While mouthing platitudes about caring for the earth, most of our governments are deepening the crisis with new plans for expanded resource exploitation, unregulated free trade deals, more invasive investment, the privatization of absolutely everything and unlimited growth. This model of development is literally killing the planet.

Unlimited growth assumes unlimited resources, and this is the genesis of the crisis. Quite simply, to feed the increasing demands of our consumer based system, humans have seen nature as a great resource for our personal convenience and profit, not as a living ecosystem from which all life springs. So we have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed either that nature would never fail to provide or that, where it does fail, technology will save the day.

Two Problems that Hinder the Environmental Movement

From the perspective of the environmental movement, I see two problems that hinder us in our work to stop this carnage. The first is that, with notable exceptions, most environmental groups either have bought into the dominant model of development or feel incapable of changing it. The main form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxics into the environment. Environmentalists work to minimize the damage from these systems, essentially fighting for inadequate laws based on curbing the worst practices, but leaving intact the system of economic globalization at the heart of the problem. Trapped inside this paradigm, many environmentalists essentially prop up a deeply flawed system, not imagining they are capable of creating another.

Hence, the support of false solutions such as carbon markets, which, in effect, privatize the atmosphere by creating a new form of property rights over natural resources. Carbon markets are predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations.

Another false solution is the move to turn water into private property, which can then be hoarded, bought and sold on the open market. The latest proposals are for a water pollution market, similar to carbon markets, where companies and countries will buy and sell the right to pollute water. With this kind of privatization comes a loss of public oversight to manage and protect watersheds. Commodifying water renders an earth-centred vision for watersheds and ecosystems unattainable.

Then there is PES, or Payment for Ecological Services, which puts a price tag on ecological goods – clean air, water, soil etc, – and the services such as water purification, crop pollination and carbon sequestration that sustain them. A market model of PES is an agreement between the “holder” and the “consumer” of an ecosystem service, turning that service into an environmental property right. Clearly this system privatizes nature, be it a wetland, lake, forest plot or mountain, and sets the stage for private accumulation of nature by those wealthy enough to be able to buy, hoard sell and trade it. Already, northern hemisphere governments and private corporations are studying public/private/partnerships to set up lucrative PES projects in the global South. Says Friends of the Earth International, “Governments need to acknowledge that market-based mechanisms and the commodification of biodiversity have failed both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.”

The second problem with our movement is one of silos. For too long environmentalists have toiled in isolation from those communities and groups working for human and social justice and for fundamental change to the system. On one hand are the scientists, scholars, and environmentalists warning of a looming ecological crisis and monitoring the decline of the world’s freshwater stocks, energy sources and biodiversity. On the other are the development experts, anti-poverty advocates, and NGOs working to address the inequitable access to food, water and health care and campaigning for these services, particularly in the global South. The assumption is that these are two different sets of problems, one needing a scientific and ecological solution, the other needing a financial solution based on pulling money from wealthy countries, institutions and organizations to find new resources for the poor.

The clearest example I have is in the area I know best, the freshwater crisis. It is finally becoming clear to even the most intransigent silo separatists that the ecological and human water crises are intricately linked, and that to deal effectively with either means dealing with both. The notion that inequitable access can be dealt with by finding more money to pump more groundwater is based on a misunderstanding that assumes unlimited supply, when in fact humans everywhere are overpumping groundwater supplies. Similarly, the hope that communities will cooperate in the restoration of their water systems when they are desperately poor and have no way of conserving or cleaning the limited sources they use is a cruel fantasy. The ecological health of the planet is intricately tied to the need for a just system of water distribution.

The global water justice movement (of which I have the honour of being deeply involved) is, I believe, successfully incorporating concerns about the growing ecological water crisis with the promotion of just economic, food and trade policies to ensure water for all. We strongly believe that fighting for equitable water in a world running out means taking better care of the water we have, not just finding supposedly endless new sources. Through countless gatherings where we took the time to really hear one another – especially grassroots groups and tribal peoples closest to the struggle – we developed a set of guiding principles and a vision for an alternative future that are universally accepted in our movement and have served us well in times of stress. We are also deeply critical of the trade and development policies of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the World Water Council (whom I call the “Lords of water”), and we openly challenge their model and authority.

Similarly, a fresh and exciting new movement exploded onto the scene in Copenhagen and set all the traditional players on their heads. The climate justice movement whose motto is Change the System, Not the Climate, arrived to challenge not only the stalemate of the government negotiators but the stale state of too cosy alliances between major environmental groups, international institutions and big business – the traditional “players” on the climate scene. Those climate justice warriors went on to gather at another meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, producing a powerful alternative declaration to the weak statement that came out of Copenhagen. The new document forged in Bolivia put the world on notice that business as usual is not on the climate agenda.

How the Commons Fits In

Season cycle left in chaos: Climate change taking its toll on Bangladesh

October 9, 2010
Pinaki Roy, The Daily Star
October 8, 2010

It is Ashwin in Bangla calendar, officially autumn in Bangladesh and usually the season of benign sunlight. And so it happened for generations.

But things are different now.

Last week was hot with intense humidity. Profuse sweating drenched people. But yesterday it was like monsoon, drizzling and sometimes pouring down with rain the whole day.

This July was the driest in the decade, said the meteorological office. It prompted some farmers at Ramchandra village in Shadullahpur, Gaibandha to marry off frogs, a rainmaking ritual in the country. Foreign media also covered the event.

Though there are six seasons in Bangladesh, three of them–summer, monsoon and winter–are noticeable. The farmers of the country depend on their traditional knowledge.

Agronomists say the farmers, who have been ever intuitive about weather, fail to predict the rain nowadays.

Monsoon rains normally sweep Bangladesh from June to September, with the country receiving more than 75 percent of its annual rainfall.

In 2009, there were not enough monsoon rains in mid-July to enable farmers to prepare fields and transplant Aman rice. It didn’t rain until the beginning of August that year, which delayed the transplantation even though the seedlings were ready.

The weather is vital to a country where over 60 percent people depend on agriculture, said Zainul Abedin, president of Bangladesh Society of Agronomists, while talking about climate change and its impact on agriculture at a seminer.

Even this year farmers in many parts of the country did not have water in the rainy season to rot their jute, the golden fibre of Bangladesh.

“Farmers from far away, even from other upazila, came to our village to rot their jute. We were lucky that we had water,” said Yunus Hossain, a farmer of Gopalganj, over the telephone.

Not only in Bangladesh, this phenomenon happened in many other parts of the world.

In July, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) of the United States reported that June 2010 was the warmest June on record while 2010 is the warmest year ever recorded.

Meteorology experts observe that it is proven that the mean temperature of the country is increasing.

The Dhaka Met office found a trend of temperature rise in every season analysing 55 years’ weather data between 1951 and 2005. The annual mean temperature also has shown a rising tendency, said meteorologist Shameem Hassan Bhuiyan.

The geographical position of the country is an important factor as the Himalayas is in the North and the Bay of Bengal lies in the south.

“So if the temperature increases, it creates convection clouds that cause long dry spell and short spell of heavy rainfall. It is happening in some parts of the country,” said Shameem.

Besides, the mounting temperature is causing rise in the sea level, which only adds to the sufferings of the farmers, observed agronomists.

Water levels rose by at least 5.6 mm a year at Hiron point, 1.4 mm at Cox’s Bazar and 2.9 mm at Khepupara, they said citing 2008 data from Bangladesh Water Development Board.

In the recent years, extreme natural calamities have caused mammoth loss of life and assets as well as economic losses, said Ainun Nishat at a seminar a few days ago.

“All these are happening due to climate change. The weather is acting weird not only in Bangladesh, but in the other parts of the world,” he said, adding that most unusually the temperature of Moscow, Russia, was more than that of Dhaka this summer.

India, Pakistan, China, the Middle East and many European countries are also experiencing unusual weather events, he said

After the disaster

May 28, 2010

NewAge Extra, May 28-June 3, 2010

Mohiuddin Alamgir narrates the miseries of the Aila-affected area residents, a year after the cyclone had hit these parts. 

On the night of May 25, 2009, 50-year-old Babu Ranjan Baisnab, a resident of Dophadi Kheyaghat, of the Dacope upazila of Khulna district about 400 kilometres south-west of Dhaka, was relieved after the cyclone Aila gradually died out a few hours after hitting the area at a speed of 100 km per hour. Having survived with all of his family members, he vowed to start things afresh and work hard to fill up the losses of his house, substantial storage of food grain and other items required to support daily life.

   Ranjan was helped by the government and non-government organisations (NGO) members for the first few days, through the relief they provided, helping his family have two meals a day. However the regularity of this support faded as time passed.

   Ranjan, like hundreds of other families in the area, currently live with his family at a makeshift house near the embankment. Although they were promised and committed many things over the past one year by the government organisations, NGOs and even foreign governments, all of these promises are yet to materialise.

   ‘I had lost around 30 bighas of land along with my house, which is still underwater,’ says Ranjan on May 13. ‘The authorities did not take any steps to rescue these and I am in doubt whether I will ever get to see these during my lifetime,’ he adds.

   He mentions that while the government is still providing 19 kilograms of rice per month for his six-member family, the NGOs seem to have forgotten the promises they had made to him and many other family heads of the area.

   ‘I had heard that once the Water Development Board (WDB) reconstructs the embankment, I will get back my submerged land; however, I have not seen any work yet,’ he says.

   ‘I do not want any relief. I want my land and house back,’ he demands.

   60-year-old Sarala, of the same upazila, demands only clean water and food while collecting filthy water from a nearby pond at the Choto Jaliakhali area beside the Nalian-Dacope embankment. The water of the pond has turned yellow and is undoubtedly unhealthy.

   ‘We have to collect water from here as the water of all other bodies have turned into salt water and the wells and tube-wells are not functioning either,’ she says. ‘The scarcity of drinking water is driving most to go hungry for days as we are unable to cook food without water,’ she says.

   The residents of Gabura, an island union surrounded by the Kholpetua and Kapatakshi rivers, Chaudda Rasi canal at Shyamnagar in Satkhira and Koyra upazila of Khulna are also affected as they have to live in submerged houses and there is a dearth of clean drinking water and a crisis of proper sanitation system.

   Al Mamun Gazi, a class five student of Jaliakhali Government Primary School, rarely goes to school as his own family is living in submerged conditions and fears that he will not do well in the upcoming examination. ‘I cannot even play as there is no dry space for playing,’ he says.

   Mamun also misses his classmate Mallika whose family shifted to India earlier this year.

   Due to the persisting problems in these areas, a good number of families have relocated themselves to other parts of Bangladesh like Satkhira, Khulna and Dhaka while others, like Mallika’s, have moved to India after losing their houses, lands and means of livelihood.

   Crisis at large
   * Most of the Aila-affected people are living in submerged houses
   * The situation will be much worse if another disaster occurs in these areas this year: locals
   * Most residents have moved to other parts of the country with their families while other families have migrated to India for good
   * There is a crisis of clean water, dry and open spaces and proper sanitation system

Negligence at repairing and rebuilding of the embankments by the authorities, profiteering mentality of the NGOs,embezzlement of relief and rehabilitation funds by government officials, NGOs and the local leaders as well as other factors, are worsening the situation in these parts, thus driving the cyclone-affected locals toward an uncertain future. Most residents of the worst-affected embankments fear that vast areas could be submerged permanently as embankments are fast deteriorating beyond repair.

   The WDB failed to reconstruct the embankments entirely at a number of points, while at others they tried to temporarily stop the water from overflowing by applying mud. According to locals, most parts of the embankment are not built effectively, leading to the growing threat of breach and overflow of water during the upcoming rainy season.

   Jaliakhali, a remote village which has been flooded after a breach in the embankment point, cannot be reached that easily, with any form of vehicle. After the breach, the 15 to 20 feet wide canal of the area has turned into a 200 to 250 feet wide water body.

   Most of the mud-made four kilometre Kamarkhola-Jaliakhali road, by the river Dhaki, has been washed away during the first week of April this year at the Choto Jalikhali point. Although the embankment at Jaliakhali was reconstructed from February to April, after the cyclone last year, it was damaged within two days of completion, during the high tide at the Dhaki River.

   Most locals inform Xtra that the contractor, who took on the reconstruction work, had handed it to a sub-contractor who had used substandard materials in order to make more profit. As a result, the reconstructed embankment could not hold off the water pressure of the river for even 48 hours.

   Like Jaliakhali, other villages of Kamarkhola, Saharabad, Joynagar, Srinagar, Fakirdanga and Bhitedanga of Kamarkhola and Sutakhali, Taltala, Bainpara, Telirkona, Gunari, Kalabagi, Kewratala, Golbunia, Dakkhin Kalabagi and Nalian of Dacope and Koyra Sadar, Koyra 2 and Koyra 4 of Koyra are still underwater.

   According to NGO and government officials, riverside villages in the affected districts are submerged regularly during high tide, plunging at least 100,000 people of the embankment areas in severe problems. 

The locals point out that the crisis is getting worse as WDB is never prompt at taking the necessary measures. They inform Xtra that the work usually starts when the rainy season is knocking at the door leading to three times the expenditure of public money.

   Also, sub-contractors cannot ensure quality work due to the climate and water pressure during this time, and the work takes at least six months to be completed. The locals point out that the best season for such work is winter after which the water depth and velocity increases naturally.

   The Aila-affected people of these areas blasted WDB for their failure at doing the repair work within the shortest possible time, due to low salaries of the workers and the contractors’ tendencies to make more profit through the delay.

   Locals fear that as the construction work may take at least one year, thousands may lose their lives if any cyclone or floods hit these areas during this time.

   The Khulna WDB sources inform Xtra that most of the 10 to 15 feet wide eight enclosures of the 51 kilometres long polder number 32 of Dacope, starting from Nalian project, whose boundary also ends around the same area in an anti-clockwise direction, have increased to 100 to 150 feet in width due to excessive water pressure, making the construction work there difficult.

   These sources also add that as most of the embankments in the area were built around the sixties, the average height of the embankments is 4.27 metres. However, due to the increase in water level over the past few decades, the embankments need to be increased to a height of at least 5.27 metres now, to prevent water from entering the villages during any climatic disaster.

   To add to the concerns, WDB sources inform that the reconstruction and repair of the embankments may not be completed within this year. However, they are hopeful at being able to prevent river water from flooding the villages by raising smaller embankments.

   As WDB could not initiate the repair work within time despite floating tenders a number of times, the government deployed navy personnel in the affected areas to speed up reconstruction and repair work to complete the task in time.

   Executive engineer of Khulna Water Development Board, Mosaddeq Hossain, informs Xtra that only in Dacope, an area of around 84 square kilometres are submerged in water while around 120 square kilometres of land is underwater in Koyra Upazila of Khulna and Satkhira districts. According to Khulna WDB sources, around 17.9 kilometres of embankments were damaged entirely and 31.6 kilometres of embankments were partially damaged in the Dacope upazila by Aila.

   ‘Although we tried to prevent the flooding of the villages and worked hard to complete the work within time, we did not find contractors for the work although we did float tenders,’ says Mosaddeq.

   Both Dacope UNO Quazi Atiur Rahman, and Chairman of Kamarkhali Union of Dacope, Samaresh Chandra Roy, blame WDB and the contractors for the failure at reconstructing and repairing the embankments within time.

   Locals also blame the increased concentration of unplanned Gher projects (enclosure used to cultivate shrimp) as one of the reasons for the crisis in these areas as the natural flow of water has been hindered by these enclosures.

* Reconstruction and repair of embankments are being delayed
* Repaired Jaliakhali embankment was washed away only two days after the work was completed: locals
* The contractors and subcontractors are using substandard materials to make more profit: locals
* Locals and some decision-makers of the area blame the Khulna Water Development Board for the problems

* Government employees, local NGO workers, political party leaders and some influential have formed a syndicate that embezzles relief and rehabilitation funds: residents

The prevalent problems have driven most locals to migrate to other parts of Bangladesh while some have left the country with their families as the affected areas are not good for farming, fishing, day labour work and so on. Most of the locals, currently living in these areas, work for the numerous shrimp enclosures.

   At least 15 families of the Jaliakhali area have shifted to India. ‘Families of Bhupati Zoardder, Bhaben Zoarder, Shushanto Roy, Amal Roy, Sujit roy, Shanjit Roy and Komol of the area have shifted to India,’ says Paritosh.

   On the other hand Gabura union council chairman, Shafiul Azam, informs Xtra that about 5,000 residents have already left their homes for towns seeking jobs at the unions.

   ‘As we were facing an acute shortage of food, shelter, drinking water and proper sanitation, I moved to Khulna with my wife and only child from my village,’ says Shamsu Ali, a 45 year-old rickshaw puller in Khulna city. ‘I am fortunate that I am pulling a rickshaw when most of the Aila-affected people are currently begging in Khulna and other adjoining cities while also living substandard lives at the slums of these cities,’ he adds.

   People currently living under the open skies of these cities allege that the relief and rehabilitation work of the government and the NGOs are not sufficient. ‘Local leaders and NGO workers are embezzling funds, not providing rightful wages to the workers regularly while still making false promises to people like us, who have lost everything to Aila,’ complains a slum resident of Khulna city.

   There are also strong allegations of nepotism and partisanship against the local Union Parishad Chairman, most of the ruling party leaders and other influentials of the area. Some even claim that these individuals have formed a syndicate through which they embezzle the relief and rehabilitation funds and materials.

   Local leaders and elected representatives of the area, both from ruling party and the opposition party, are busy with their politics in the name of solving the problems, according to the Aila-affected people.

   They provide the government allocation of 20 kilograms of rice per family per month under the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme as an example. Although this is insufficient for most five to six member families, the local authorities are actually providing only 19 kilograms of rice and keeping at least one to two kilograms to themselves while accounting this as ‘compensation for transport costs’.

   However, it was learnt from government sources that separate transport costs are paid to these individuals. ‘Relief and rehabilitation work is not reaching the affected due to the greed of local administrators, leaders and local NGO workers who consider the post- Aila situation as a profitable business opportunity,’ says Azizul Islam, a local inhabitant of Kalinagar.

Samaresh, chairman of the Kamarkhali Union, when contacted, denied all allegations.

   Residents of Kalinagar village allege that although the NGO’s have allocated Tk 17,000 for the repair of every 100 feet of local roads, in reality only Tk 8,000 is being used. They also point out that the local NGO workers are not paying the day-labourers regularly and are not implementing their campaigns in the way they were supposed to.

   Local NGO officials deny the claim. ‘Dissatisfied people are making these false accusations,’ says Samir Das, disaster monitoring officer of Rupantor a local NGO that works through USAID, Oxfam, Development Agency Corporation, Save the Children UK and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) funding.

   According to Nani Gopal Mondal, parliamentarian from the Khulna-1 constituency, consisting of Dacope and Batighata area, large-scale repair work on the embankments will commence from coming October. ‘Irregularities by NGOs at distributing relief is taking place in the area as there is no authority to monitor and coordinate the relief and rehabilitation work of the NGOs,’ he says.

   He also stresses that although corruption is taking place, it is not at the scale at which the locals are alleging.

   When cyclone Aila had hit these coastal areas around a year back, tidal surges as high as seven to eight feet, accompanied by heavy showers and wind had struck the residents on May 25, 2009. The cyclone claimed lives of 190 people, 1,50,131 livestock, affected 39,28,238 people of 9,48,621 families, damaged 6,13,778 houses, crops on 3,23,454 acres and 1,742.53-kilometre stretch of embankments, according to the official records.

   ‘I can only pray that our families will survive and our living conditions will not worsen as the rainy season approaches with increased possibility of cyclones, hurricanes and floods,’ dreads Ranjan.

   additional reporting by Tapos Kanti Das

‘WDB flouts its own guidelines’

May 28, 2010

NewAge Extra, May  28-June 3, 2010

Dr Ainun Nishat, vice chancellor of Brac University, speaks to Mohiuddin Alamgir of NewAge about the capacity of existing dykes and why the WDB needs to raise the embankments by another two metres to resist the tidal surges. 

One year after the cyclone Aila, some one lakh people are still living in a miserable state in makeshift houses on embankments and many argue that the failure to repair embankments has worsened the situation. 

The current dykes in the coastal areas were made in the 1960‘s and with the help of polders, the areas became habitable. During monsoon, high tides appear twice a month and stay for three to five days. Water also breaks in during depression at the Bay of Bengal. Without the dykes and polders, it would be hard to live in the areas.

   After Sidr and Aila a number of channels opened up and some of them became massive. There was very little time to fix them. 

   The slopes on the riverside should be flat and the dykes should be heightened by another two metres. 

   Not only do we have to rebuild the polders but we also have to ensure their strength to resist calamities and seasonal flows. For that, a lot of money is required and allocating 50 crore takas or 100 crore takas will not be enough.

   The existing polders constructed in the 1970 have overlooked proper management, development of internal drainage system and drainage for rainfall. The worsening scenario of the embankments is also attributable to the Water Development Board (WDB) flouting their own guideline and manuals for the maintenance of the dykes.

   In spite of repairs, the embankments in the coastal areas continue to erode and collapse. Are the dams strong enough to resist future waves of cyclones under such circumstances?

   Technological aspects have not been looked into. The civil engineers responsible for constructing the dykes are the same who design the high-rises and so, it is failing. The present dykes were not originally built to resist storm surges. The tide levels have also increased compared to the 1960s. Repair of the dykes are serious, complex and technical and the present WDB has not taken it seriously.

   Many environmentalists argue that embankments are also responsible for the inundation in the area. What do you think about that?

   There are debates against dams. Dam is a structure made across the river to hold water and control the flow of river but on the other hand, dykes or embankments prevents inundations.

   If critics understand the difference between dams and dykes a lot of the criticisms would not have found ground. I am not saying that dykes do not create problems and that is why I stress on the need for internal drainage conditions.

   The victims of the affected areas allege that relief and rehabilitation materials, and funds, are swindled by local ruling party leaders.

   It is a question of management and transparency. Since the dykes were not repaired during the last dry season I foresee problems arising in the future. I do not think it will be possible to finish the repair work during this monsoon. After water submerged the lands of the inhabitants, many people had to resort to living on dykes.

   There are also allegations about non-government organisations’ involvement in apportioning relief materials. Do you not think that there exists a lack of coordination between the government and NGOs in terms of distribution?

   Personally I believe NGOs have a role to play where government falls short of its capacity or infrastructure to serve people. It is very unfortunate that there is no coordination.

   If government is distributing relief and the NGO is doing the same job in the same area then there is a duplication of the task.

   The main problem with NGOs in our country is that they do not have their own resources and are borrowing or collecting resources from donors. If a donor thinks that the government is not doing its job in the right way only then should they employ NGOs to do things properly. The NGOs should inform the government about their activities so that the tasks are not duplicated and coordination is effective.

   Most of the time, NGOs do the work as long as funds flow and I do not think NGOs can provide long term solutions.

   Do you think the Disaster Management Bureau is equipped to tend to natural calamities that are intensifying every passing day?

   DMB was established in early 1990’s. During the last 20 years it has appointed many consultants for Comprehensive Disaster Management Plan and produced many excellent reports. DMB has manuals and guidelines but are yet to execute their tasks in the fashion that is expected. The DMB is not equipped enough as it does not have trained manpower and people are sent there on deputation, who seek the training, and eventually return to their primary service. 

   Bangladesh had a number of response mechanisms for the affected but are the preventive measures strong enough to face disasters like cyclone, tornado and etc?

   You cannot prevent cyclones. We are good in distributing relief materials. We have to have a fresh look into disaster management. The costal zone embankments have to be reviewed, the heights should be increased and constructed with sound engineering, the internal drainage system should be improved and the local community should be trained in the process. A strong green belt should be developed with trees and embankment has to be raised by another two metres. Cyclone centres should be installed in the coastal areas in a manner that they can also be used as home, school and other structures.