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The case for post-flood rehabilitation  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: August 26, 2019 22:09:40


Both large and low-intensity floods have two stages. At the onset of the calamity, the victims in the rural areas are made to flee their flooded homesteads. They helplessly watch their crop fields go under water. As the flood water continues to rise to dangerous levels, they start deserting their homes to take shelter at elevated places like embankments and roads. In a short time, they become displaced people. Only a handful of the flood-stricken masses can make it to a roofed shelter, mostly schools and community centres. For the others, the following days or months emerge as veritable ordeals as they have to share open spaces with their cattle and other flood victims. Living in a huddled state, with infectious diseases spreading, the hardship which they have to put up with seems unending. Emergency reliefs remain illusory for long on occasions.

This pattern of flood-related woes has been prevailing in flood-prone Bangladesh for ages. The month-long deluge that has recently affected millions of people in the country's north, northeast and southwest is no exception. However, the regional flood has stricken the county after a considerable gap. Before the swollen rivers could begin devouring the central parts of the country, the flood waters began receding. Outwardly, it appeared to be a relief from the protracted ordeal which had crippled the lives of people in the affected regions.

With the start of this phase, the affected villagers discover themselves in their second stage of hard times. It is dominated by the efforts to start life anew. As the media, both print and electronic, has reported lately, most of the victims of the recent flood have found their weakly constructed dwellings and other structures in total ruin. Most of the fields growing mature paddy and seedlings have borne the brunt of the calamity. With no seedlings, the farmers' dream spun around Aman paddy cultivation and the following harvests this year is now in jeopardy.

On the other hand, the whole mechanism of rehabilitating the flood victims is increasingly being brought into question. Government efforts to start coping with the flood aftermath are still largely elusive. The focus of the central administration is at present concentrated on fighting the countrywide dengue scourge. The feeling of uncertainties about the all-out start of post-flood rehabilitation anytime soon haunts the people in their affected areas.

There are ample reasons for these premonitions. The past records of post-flood rehabilitation pop up in the minds of the affected people. It took nearly a decade for the victims of the cataclysmic deluge in 1988 to resume the normal chores of life. In fact, administrative sloth in helping people restart their day-to-day life has beset the rural areas since long. This picture emerges with all depressing aspects after other natural disasters strike the country at different times. Relatively recent instances are the plight of people battered by the cyclones Sidr and Aila in 2007 and 2009 respectively. The laidback attitude towards the urgency of alleviating people's sufferings after disasters is feared to become integral to country's task of rehabilitating the victims. Repairing dwelling houses is viewed as the most urgent and vital of the needs in flood-affected areas. As has been seen in the past, this part of the rehabilitation project is conducted in a slipshod manner. Maybe, some villagers can somehow manage to collect bundles of tin or bamboo poles. These construction materials are not all required to raise even an improvised house. In order to build a tolerably livable dwelling, a person requires lots of other house-making materials. They include pieces of wood needed for doors and windows, nails, screws and bolts and other items which have to be purchased from the market. What the poverty-stricken villagers will do with mere bundles of tin and bamboo poles finally emerge as a riddle to them. Their ordeals keep continuing.

The other post-calamity vital sectors include preparing the croplands to make them cultivable, arrangement of crop seeds and paddy seedlings, making the farm implements usable etc. The stark reality that prevails in this sector is many small farmers remaining finally deprived of even a petty volume of help from the rehabilitation programmes. The general people in the aftermath of prolonged floods find themselves crippled with myriads of infrastructural disruptions. Those include erosion-hit unusable roads, flood-stricken concrete and makeshift bridges, collapse of health complexes and many other village-based installations.

The sector which emerges as being most affected with far-reaching flood impact is one of rural schools. After the recent month-long flood, students and teachers came to their schools to find them in complete disarray. The walls and floors of classrooms and offices have become completely unusable. At schools, walls are found precariously tilted with some lying in a crumbled state. Undistributed free textbooks have turned into heaps of crumpled paper after remaining under water for weeks in a row. These schools include both primary and high schools. Thousands of such schools in the post-flood regions offer a spectacle of wholesale devastation. Any idea of when these schools could be brought to a fully functional stage still eludes the locally based authorities. Besides being under murky water for weeks, a number of riverside schools have been affected by erosion partially. A few have vanished into the whirlpools of water overnight.

In spite of the extensive damages inflicted by the flood, a small number of students and teachers throng the schools. The local elderly people feel many such schools run the risk of caving in unless they are thoroughly renovated. In the case of schools built with bamboo fencing and tin roofs, they are beyond use unless reconstructed. Upon an overview of the recent post-flood situation, lots of environmentally conscious people warn of repeated floods of mid-level intensity following heavy downpours. As they view it, in the age of erratic climate changes droughts pose a lesser threat to Bangladesh. At least for now. The real danger is feared to brew in excessive rain and the inevitable floods. Timely flood forecasts and foolproof relief and rehabilitation activities can mitigate the impact of these natural disasters.

 

shihabskr@ ymail.com

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