The British Red Cross recovery programme has helped vulnerable families from a landless fishing community that survived Cyclone Sidr build new shelters and improve their livelihoods prospects.
Around 925 families living in temporary housing, precariously close to the sea in Kuakata, lost their homes in the cyclone and resulting tidal surge.
The British Red Cross, working with the government of Bangladesh, helped relocate this landless, vulnerable community to a safer area. The Bangladesh government provided land for the new communities and we built 925 homes.
Most of the building materials were sourced or manufactured locally. Small businesses were set up in the community and supported the manufacture of specific construction items such as roof joists, reinforced concrete pillars and latrine rings.
The British Red Cross employed over 30 staff, carpenters, builders and construction workers mostly from the local area as well as from Dhaka to build the shelters. At its peak, around 12 shelters were being built each day. Each shelter cost around £1,000 to build.
With the help of the British Red Cross, the new communities established committees that received education and training on sanitation and disaster management.
In addition, 34 community-based organisations, which they call ‘naba jagaran samiti’ meaning new awakening committee, have been formed. These committees help them access further assistance from the local authorities and represent themselves in any wider community activities.
Most of the families relocating relied on fishing to make a living, which resulted in over-fishing and a community reliance on only one source of income. We helped 995 households establish new livelihoods through cash grants and training.
We also provided training in a number of different activities, from fish farming and market gardening to small business development, such as handicrafts.
Working with household members we ensured both men and women received support in generating income. By enabling couples to take up different livelihood activities their skills complement each other and provide greater household security against loss of income.
We also helped the families set up bank accounts and gave them £300 towards future income-generating activities. An enterprise support centre has been built and will continue to provide advice to all the families on their livelihood activities now the British Red Cross programme has finished.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr, the British Red Cross sent a four-person emergency response unit to co-ordinate the distribution of food and non-food relief items.
In June 2008, tarpaulins, bamboo and tool kits were distributed to more than 1,000 families in Kuakata to provide protection from the monsoon rains until more permanent housing could be built.
The Movement response
The British Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which is working with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to help more than 243,000 people recover from the disaster.
[Mostafa Shiblee] It has been only 50 years or something since we have been seeing people living in very vulnerable situations like on the river bank, on the outside of the embankment or in places where it is extremely vulnerable due to flash floods, cyclones and everything. And that is what has caused so much casualty or damages to their life recently after the recent cyclone.
[Gaurav Prateek] When the relief ended, we first did assessments which indicated to us the status of livelihoods of people, their economic status, their social status, their levels of vulnerability and after that we carried out distribution of transitional shelters. I mean we are talking about almost 1,000 families, more than 80 per cent of them living outside the embankment, who are landless.
[Sounds of children, building work]
[Musammat Minnara Begum speaking in Bangladeshi with English subtitles] We lived on the other side of the embankment. We lost our home, all our belongings in the flood. At that time, all we were thinking about was saving our own lives. Now we have a shelter and land we’re in a much better and safer place.
[Sounds of building works]
[Gaurav Prateek] The way the shelter has been built using trestles in the roof which makes the roof much stronger which basically ensures that now the whole house is actually one unit. If anything has to be blown away, the whole house will have to be blown away now which you know is not that possible.
[Speaking in Bangladeshi with English subtitles] The Red Cross has given us a lot of help. They sent carpenters, who constructed the house. Even the risk of flood has been reduced by raising the foundations.
[Sounds of group meeting in Bangladeshi]
[Gaurav Prateek] We thought that we must ensure that people also have a voice and ownership of the whole construction process. And therefore we started organising people into what we call the ‘Nabejagra Committees’ which literally means committees of the new awakening.
[Sounds of meeting, digging]
[Mohammed Abbas] When we got the Red Cross houses, there was no road to the community. We held a committee meeting and decided to approach the local council. We have asked the chairman for a road. He agreed and we are now building it.
Through the committee we are also saving some money towards a collective fund. We hope to use the fund to develop fish farming for our community.
[Sounds of fishing]
[Gaurav Prateek] We decided that we should not only give cash grants, but supplement it with some kind of trainings in alternative livelihoods. So new things like sheep rearing and duck rearing and farming of indigenous fishes that even the poorest and most vulnerable families could afford to do and we have had a very good response from the people for the trainings.
[Renu Begum speaking in Bangladeshi with English subtitles] I have come to this training to learn about planting trees and fruit growing. So far I have learned how to properly fertilise trees. Then I will be able to grow fruit to sell and also eat it ourselves.
[Gaurav Prateek] Immediately, what has happened is that the men have kept on with the fishing. The women of the families started the alternative livelihoods so immediately, at a micro-level, the income of the family has already doubled.
[Mostafa Shiblee] There have been six or seven months by now that they have been running this training programme. By now most of the women have participated as a result of which they themselves claim that they are much more empowered. They are participating in the organising of the associations among themselves. They are taking up leadership roles and we see a lot of empowering activities happening around.
[Gaurav Prateek] What we have done in terms of the human capital, we have raised it to a certain level where even if another disaster were to take place the human capital will now ensure that the people are much more resilient to the effects of any future disasters.
[Sounds of children laughing]
Updated 19 May 2009
More about Cyclone Sidr