Thursday, August 13, 2020

[Bangladesh] Cyclone-Hit Areas in South: Gone with the storm

May 23. 2020
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By The Daily Star/ANN

With homes, belongings destroyed, they suffer for scanty relief, shortage of food, drinking water

Yusuf Hawlader does not know where he will live now as his homestead has been washed away by onrushing water triggered by Cyclone Amphan.

"Everything is gone. The cyclone has taken away everything from us," said the 62-year-old farmer while wiping tears off his cheeks.

Yusuf is a resident of Pankhali village in Dacope upazila of Khulna, a district badly hit by the fierce force of nature, which has left a trail of destruction in the country's coastal areas. More than a dozen people have been killed.

Around 250 families, including that of Yusuf, took refuge at Pankhali Cyclone Centre in the upazila, hours before Amphan made landfall on Wednesday with a wind speed of more than 150km per hour.

Most of them have returned, but some 17 to 18 families have nothing to come back to since their homes have been wiped away.

"On one hand, we don't have any place to live and sleep and on the other, there is no dry place left to keep our cattle. Also, how can we feed our cattle?" Yusuf asked.

Visiting four cyclone centres and around a dozen affected villages in the upazila, our correspondent talked to around 30 families hit hard by the cyclone.

The cyclone centres are located in Pankhali, Nolian, Sutorkhali and Banisantha villages. Apart from them, other affected villages include Kalinagar, Laudob, Bajua, Horintana, and Podderganj.

While ravaging through the areas, the cyclone destroyed standing crops, vegetables and fruits. Flooding induced by it also washed away fishing enclosures.

"I had a shrimp enclosure on 2.5 bighas of land. I invested around Tk 70,000 in it, but it has been badly damaged," said Jalia Begum, a villager aged around 55.

"We are poor people. Our hard-earned money has been washed away. We don't know how we will be back on our feet," she said.

The situation of the Amphan-affected people in coastal district Satkhira's Burigoalini union appears to be worse than that of those in Khulna.

Swathes of land in the union in Shyamnagar upazila have been inundated after an embankment on the Khulpetua river was breached at several points.

Many who took shelter at cyclone centres could not return to their homes, which remained under waist-deep water during high tide, Abdul Halim, a local tour boat operator, told The Daily Star over phone.

Halim, who also writes for local newspapers, said the crisis of drinking water has turned out to be a main problem in the area. Fresh water in tube-wells and ponds has turned salty, he said.

"We preserved some rainwater. But a lot of people are facing a hard time collecting drinking water. We need immediate supply of drinking water," he said, adding that none in the area got any relief material until yesterday noon.

All sources of drinking water have been damaged as all the houses in eight villages in the upazila remained under waist-deep water during high tide, following the breach in the embankment on the Khulpetua river, he said.

He also said nearly 300 people had taken shelter on the embankment. "Local people are trying to repair the embankment, but it is not working," he said.

Amphan hit the country's southwestern coast days before Eid-ul-Fitr, affecting more than a million people.

An estimated 2.2 lakh houses were damaged. The cyclone also destroyed standing crops, vegetables and fruits on 1.76 lakh hectares of land, uprooted millions of trees and damaged fish farms, said officials.

According to a primary estimate, the cyclone caused damage worth around Tk 1,100 crore, Shah Kamal, senior secretary at the disaster management and relief ministry, told The Daily Star on Thursday.

Apart from Satkhira and Khulna, the other worst-affected districts include Bagerhat, Bhola, Pirjopur and Patuakhali, where people are suffering amid a crisis of food and fresh water.

Talking to The Daily Star, Beauty Begum from Char Shahjalal in Bhola said whatever rice they had in her home was washed away by flooding.

"My children are starving and crying for food. But I have nothing to offer them," said the woman, a mother of four, in Guchchu Gram of Char Shahjalal in the district's Lalmohan upazila.

She said a neighbour gave them some cooked food, which was barely enough for her family of seven.

She also said they did not get any relief and fresh water in the last two days. They have to drink saline water.

Contacted, Mohammed Masud Alam Siddique, deputy commissioner of the district, said, "Reaching relief materials to such remote areas is a challenge. We, with the help of navy, are trying our best to provide them with food and water."

Replying to a query, Shah Kamal, senior secretary at the disaster management ministry, said it takes time to clear and repair damaged roads and restore utility services whenever a fierce natural calamity like Amphan hits.

"You know roads have been damaged, many villages are still under water. So, it takes time to reach relief to people," he said. "We must have patience."

Shah Kamal claimed that the stock of relief materials in the affected areas was adequate.

"The problem is our people cannot go the affected people as roads are damaged and villages inundated.

"Our main challenge now is to restore the disrupted communication and remove fallen trees from roads," he said, adding, "We hope the situation will improve tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

(Our correspondents from Barishal and Khulna Divisions contributed to this report)

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