By Joe Cropp and Maherin Ahmed in Bangladesh
Nomita Rani speaks in a broken whisper as she explains how her two bedroom house in northern Bangladesh was washed away when massive floods hit three months ago.
Now living by the roadside with her husband and four children, it has often been necessary to drink from the dirty water that surrounds them, despite knowing the risks it can bring. There are no other options.
Some days she has walked through water up to her neck, trying to recover possessions from her destroyed home or collect food.
“We need a dry place to sleep, clean water to drink, food for our children,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t have anything to eat for days.”
The 40-year-old mother has spent most of the day walking from her flooded community to a Bangladesh Red Crescent Society relief distribution point in the remote town Shariakandi in the country’s north.
She carries a small piece of paper given to her by an assessment team which visited her village the day before. Marked with the Red Crescent, it will enable her to collect a tarpaulin, clothes and a small cash grant to buy food.
Hers is a story repeated throughout flood affected communities in northern and south-east Bangladesh. More than 1 million people have been affected by the floods that followed torrential monsoon rains in late June. They have lost their homes, farms and belongings.
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While many people have been able to return to their damaged houses to begin rebuilding their lives, thousands more like Nomita remain camped out on roadsides, short of food and facing the risk of deadly diseases from the stagnant flood water that surrounds them.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has been providing emergency relief to almost 10,000 of these families, including food, drinking water, emergency shelter and clothing. Families also receive small cash grants of 2,000 taka (23 Swiss francs/24 US dollars) to meet other immediate needs.
Medical teams from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society have been working throughout the flood zone to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and dysentery.
“With homes destroyed, farmland submerged, water supplies disrupted, and health care and sanitation facilities inaccessible, those affected by the 2012 floods are going to need assistance for many months to come,” said Secretary General Abu Bakar.
“As well as providing relief assistance, it’s important we begin helping people take control of their own recovery and begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is running an emergency appeal to raise 1.75 million Swiss francs (1.86 million US dollars/1.45 million euro) to support the National Society in its ongoing work to assist 9,500 families.
Running over ten months, the recovery operation will cover the further distribution of food, clothing, cooking utensils and shelter material.
Flood affected families will be given access to mobile health teams, health education, safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities to reduce the risk of disease. Crucially, to allow families to take control of their own recovery, livelihoods will be restored through the distribution of cash grants and skills development training.
“To carry out this work we rely on the generosity of the international community,” said Sajit Menon, the IFRC’s acting Head of Delegation in Bangladesh. “To date, we have received only 39 per cent of the 1.75 million Swiss francs that we need to help these families recover. We call on the international community to support our appeal and support it quickly.”
“Taking action now will greatly reduce the immediate threats that people are facing in roadside camps and damaged villages. It will also go a long way to putting people in a position where they can take control of their own recovery, and begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.”
At the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society relief centre at Shariakandi, it is dark when Itti Rani begins to make the 10kmwalk back to her flooded village. For the past month she has been living with her husband and two children on the roadside, after the school where they first sought shelter became too crowded.
The tarpaulin and clothing the 27-year-old mother-of-two has received are bundled under her arm. An envelope holding the 2,000 taka is clenched tightly in her hand. “It will help feed our children,” she says, before heading down the dusty track towards her tin shelter, made from the wreckage of her home.