Bangladesh Braces for Post-Flood Trauma, Christians Responding

( [email protected] ) Aug 03, 2004 12:16 PM EDT

After killing more than 1,350 people across the region, South Asia's worst floods in 15 years are receding and should soon be over, weather officials said on Tuesday. However, tackling the devastation left by the flood waters and meeting the cost of rehabilitating people and infrastructure will be a daunting task for the authorities, officials and aid agencies said.

The flooding in mid-July caused damage in Bangladesh alone worth about $7 billion, the U.N. World Food Program said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The floods wiped out people's household food stocks and effectively removed all other sources of nutrition and income. Fish farms are gone, poultry is drowned, fodder is unavailable for livestock so the animals are being sold at rock-bottom prices," the WFP said.

"Day labor jobs are gone too, as quarries and brickworks are submerged by water. The next rice harvest in Bangladesh is now nine months away (April-May)," said the statement, quoting the WFP's country representative in Dhaka, Douglas Casson Coutts.

"WFP has mobilized its existing in-country food supplies to distribute rice and high-energy biscuits to 1.8 million people, while calling on donors to support the agency's steadily mounting relief campaign," Coutts said.

"We are getting strong indications that donors are prepared to be generous," he added.

Bangladesh's minister for food and disaster management, Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yusuf, said on Tuesday: "Bangladesh is effectively managing the flood situation by distributing relief and medicare across the country.

"We have sufficient food and medicine to tackle the situation. We have taken measures to feed 20 million people free of cost until next March," he told foreign journalists in Dhaka.

Eight Christian Aid partners recently met to plan a coordinated response to the flooding in Bangladesh.

The Christian Aid partners agreed that emergency food parcels and oral rehydration salts, to counter the effects of diarrhea, are the two most urgent needs. They plan to distribute the food and salts to 100,000 of the worst affected families in 21 of the 35 affected districts during August.

Christian Aid has committed part of the necessary funds and is seeking the remainder from institutional donors. It is also monitoring the situation closely, as a second phase of work will be planned as soon as the situation, which may worsen as the monsoon progresses, becomes clearer.

The Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB) is already giving emergency relief in nine districts and will be leading the planned response.

Its longstanding Disaster Preparedness Program has already helped save lives and minimize the impact of the floods by training communities to stockpile supplies and to plan locally appropriate action.

CCDB also runs training programs in disaster response for other organizations in Bangladesh and has established relationships with many other organizations, so it is well placed to play a coordinating role. CCDB is also participating in combined response by Action By Churches Together.

News from other Christian Aid partners includes reports from UBINIG of epidemics of water-borne diseases including skin diseases, pneumonia, and accidental deaths due to drowning and snake-bites, for which anti-venom is not available.

UBINIG works with poor farmers and handloom weavers. It says more than one million weavers are starving because they are unable to produce or sell their wares and many have no stocks of food.

The 1988 floods killed about 3,500 people in Bangladesh, and more than 500 were killed in 1998. The current floods and accompanying diseases have so far killed more than 1,350 people across South Asia, 660 in Bangladesh and the rest in India's Assam and Bihar states.