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Shelter Is Priority Among Families Visited By Habitat Team In Cyclone-Hit Bangladesh

Habitat Has Plans To Assist Up To 3,000 Families; Seeks Over US$1 Million Funding

KALAPARA, Bangladesh, 26th November 2007: Devastated by Cyclone Sidr that crashed into southern Bangladesh on 15th November, the survivors are trying to cope with the little that they have. Shelter is an immediate concern given the advance of winter. At a recent meeting held by the Bangladesh government with non-governmental organizations, Habitat for Humanity indicated its intention to assist up to 3,000 families through rebuilding and repairing homes, a plan that is subject to available funding.

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Toppled: What remains of a house in Kalapara upazilla, some 400 km. south of Dhaka.

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What’s left: Two children at their temporary shelter in Kalapara.

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All alone: Moslem Khan lost four of his children who were killed in the cyclone.

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Homeless: Ajufa, with her young daughter Jakia, put up at a tent in Kalapara after losing their house in the cyclone.

A five-member Habitat team that is currently in southern Bangladesh will continue to visit some of the worst-hit areas to meet affected families, assess the extent of damage and determine the appropriate response. A mobile Habitat Resource Center (HRC) model of delivery, initially designed for the flood response program, is being planned for the cyclone response. It is projected that up to US$1.5 million is required to fund Habitat’s cyclone response program.

“The families in these affected villages are in great need of shelter which is now their first priority. Everything they had was destroyed or lost,” said Md Habibur Rahman, executive director of Southern Socio-economic Development Program. SSDP is a local non-governmental organization that has been working for over a decade in the badly affected areas that the Habitat team is visiting. “If we can provide them with a house that can withstand the harsh weather conditions they would be very happy,” Md Habibur added.  

Md Habibur’s sentiments echoed what the United Nations unveiled in its initial assessment report, released a week after the disaster. The immediate needs of a cyclone-hit Bangladesh are food, shelter and cash, according to the UN report.

The UN report also cited clean water and adequate sanitation as key requirements. Income generation, especially for families dependent on fishery and agriculture, is another area that calls for strong support. The findings are made known after United Nations assessment teams visited nine of the worst affected districts.

The devastating effects of the cyclone are evident in five affected villages that the Habitat assessment team visited. Three of these villages could only be reached by motor bicycle as the roads are badly damaged. Transportation by the river, while still viable, is expensive with costs rising four times. While passing through these villages, the Habitat team saw damaged houses and homes that were crushed by fallen trees. Metal roofing sheets tore off by fierce winds lay twisted on the dirt roads.

In Kalapara upazilla, which comprises 180 to 270 villages, scores of children are wandering around a temporary camp which houses 12 homeless families. Most of the families lost their fishing livelihood with the destruction of their boats and fishing nets. Tents made of plastic and tin salvaged from the debris provide shelter while the mangled stumps of trees complete the desolate picture.

Moslem Khan, 75, approached the Habitat team as the members were walking through the village. Shaking his head while looking up at the sky, he held out his hands and said:  “Please help us here,” he said. “We have nothing left and my losses are great.”

Before the cyclone hit, he had been visiting his granddaughters in another village while his own family of 14 members remained at home.

“I heard the sound of the cyclone warning system and knew I should get home but it was not possible. Only after the rains and winds died down did I try to go outside. When I reached my home, it was all gone. Four of my children were killed and one is still missing.”

He sat down against the pole of a tent in the camp and began to cry, shaking his head.

In another corner, twenty-year-old Ajufa was feeding her four-year-old daughter, Jakia with dried fish that was distributed by a relief organization some days ago. “We came here last week after the cyclone,” she said. “We lost our home which is near here but felt safer here for now. It is hard now since we lost everything. My husband is able to do some fishing so we can eat but our village was all destroyed. Since we have no home we will live here until someone can help us.”

SSDP’s Md Habibur said: “These families are over 15 kilometers from the main village areas where food is being distributed and often do not even know. Most have said they have had little food for the past three days but have faith that they will be cared for. Even beyond their hunger they say they need a house to live in.”

Later that evening, Bangladesh’s Deputy Commissioner held a meeting with 35 NGOs including Save the Children and Muslim Relief in Kalapara concerning the roles and responsibilities. Most of the NGOs that were in attendance at the meeting were providing emergency relief in food. The majority of them were distributing rice, oil and lentils. The lack of potable drinking water continues to be a key factor affecting the survivors’ health. Dysentery is widespread.

At the meeting which was attended by Habitat representatives, the three most affected areas were identified as Galachipa, Kalapara and Mirjaganj. Among these, Mirjaganj sustained the worst damage with 13,000 houses destroyed. It is also the area that Habitat for Humanity intends to carry out its cyclone response program which could be expanded to other affected districts in partnerships with other organizations.

Among the NGOs now working in the affected areas, Save the Children has expressed interest in partnering with Habitat in funding long-term housing. Potential donors include the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The cyclone has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people and affected 6.8 million people who lost their homes, crops and livestock. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed while an even greater number of houses were damaged.

Since 1999, Habitat for Humanity has built and rehabilitated approximately 1,000 homes in Bangladesh. It operates mainly through Habitat Resource Centers and related satellite centers in local communities. Habitat was preparing to begin a disaster response program to assist 150 families who were affected by the July 2007 floods when Cyclone Sidr hit.