Hazrat Ali, 38, lives in Mombipara near Kuakata, in a small village close to the Bay of Bengal. Like many others, Hazrat is landless. His main occupation is marine fishing and about 18 months ago, he and his brother took out a loan to buy their own fishing boat. The repayment of the loan was through instalments, which they had been paying without much difficulty.
Hazrat and his wife, Fatema Begum, had a large family of six children, including two daughters and four sons. While Hazrat would go fishing, his wife would stay at home and looked after the children.
As Hazrat and Fatema describe the night that Cyclone Sidr hit, tears roll down their cheeks. Hazrat says: “In the evening, the Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers came and asked everybody in the village to move to the cyclone shelter. But high-speed winds and heavy rains had already started and it became increasingly difficult to venture out. We thought maybe we should stay, because two of our kids were so small. Most of the families left, but we stayed.”
“Around midnight, a high tide came suddenly, and washed away everything,” Hazrat continues, crying. “We lost our two sons, aged three and 18 months. I was holding them in my arms, but as a big wave came, I fell on the floor, and lost hold of my sons.”
The big waves also took away their boat and fishing net. In fact, as Hazrat and his stricken family emerged in the morning, their only remaining possessions were the clothes they had been wearing at the time of the disaster.
After that, for more than a week, they borrowed food from neighbours who still had some left. Later, they also received some relief from the government and non-governmental organisations. Hazrat went to the local moneylender for a loan to enable him to buy another boat, but he was refused. Desperate for a living, he started working on other people’s boats as a daily labourer.
After the storm
Hazrat and his family lived in their neighbour’s house for a few months. He says: “I was not very happy because we were really stretching their hospitality, but there was nothing much I could do. Then I heard that the British Red Cross was starting work in our area and I began to hope that their help would bring relief from this pain.”
Hazrat and Fatema were included among the list of vulnerable families to get temporary shelters. They were given bamboo, tarpaulin and other materials to make a shelter and they were able to move out from their neighbour’s house. Fatema says: “In the months after Cyclone Sidr, my husband had forgotten how to laugh. The day we moved into our own shelter was the first day he laughed again after a long time. My children were also very happy that day.”
Red Cross support
Hazrat has seen the British Red Cross building new permanent homes and is now excitedly waiting for his own. “The quality of the shelters being built is excellent, soon I will own such a wonderful home, and I’ll have a plot of land to call my own,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.
Hazrat also talks about the livelihoods training that he and his wife have received. They will be getting a cash grant and are making a business plan. He says: “We will buy a cow which my wife will tend, along with the vegetable garden she is planning. And I will do fish farming and duck rearing. I hope our situation will improve so much that we never have to beg for help, ever again.
“The British Red Cross is guiding me and my family towards that goal. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how we would have carried on living. They have given us material as well as emotional support, and my family now has a new lease on life.”
Read more about recovery after Cyclone Sidr