Friday, November 23, 2007

Post Cyclone Relief: Coordination & Donations to All Flood Affected & Give Food That People Can Eat Now

It's been one week since Cyclone Sidr roared ashore on the coast of Bangladesh. The latest official toll is 3,032 and many more injured-missing.

Relief efforts are underway and millions of dollars of relief pledged, but not yet cash-supplies in hand for the Bangladeshi government, charities, aid agencies, much less for the flood affected people. USA Navy ships approach and/or even docked. One big problem as detailed by reports from BBC, CNN, and other media sources has been uneven coordination of relief efforts and getting relief materials to people who need it including people are not near district offices or received media attention or 'connections'.

Relief efforts are particularly important for women and children excluded from the community, without male partners, and/or ultra poor-geographically isolated. In a series of posts, on 22 November post, Naima Chowdhury writes how traffickers (including local police) are preying on young female orphans who have lost their parents.

Or some cyclone affected women and children are socially excluded from their communities: sex workers. In a repeated update to my earlier post re the sex workers in Mongla, we are reminded that some people affected by this Cyclone and might not be helped by their community and relief agencies. In a 21 Nov 07 post, aid worker, Naima Chowdhury, reported that although the women had advance notice of the Cyclone, local people refused them shelter and aid because of their work. Action Aid has given them chira (puffed rice and dal), but need more aid to continue. The women and their children are facing hard times because they have fewer customers from low activity at the port, she notes, "These women are incredibly poor and also face exclusion from the rest of the community."

As discussed by Sujan, in Dhaka, some people want to do something, but do not know what to collect and how to get it to agencies for distributions. On the one hand, some flood affected people need warm clothes, but on the other hand, how and where will they receive the clothes collected by students in Dhaka? Or will Shawn ever get to distribute his blankets?

Another very important issue is the actual content of relief packets (also a problem in earlier flood relief efforts): some people have received bags of rice and lentils, but have NO pots to cook in or fire to cook with AND no good water. Hence, the demand for food that the people can eat now.

Even during good times, Bangladeshis also survive on a system of loans--from micro-credit NGOs, banks, money-lenders, store credit, and even family members who are paid back when funds come in and/or are squeezed out family [rice] budgets. Many people also have ongoing loans from micro-credit NGOs for their small businesses and loans from banks & money-lenders for replanting their crops already washed away by two summer floods. As before and during post floods, many micro-credit agents demanded payments for interest from flood affected people. What will happen with the micro-credit & hurricane affected people who lost their livestock, business goods, and crops? Demands from banks, money lenders, and business people? According to DhakaShoshor and citing an Amader Shomoy article (Bn) conflicting accounts have developed over whether certain NGOs have continued their collections and/or extent of their relief efforts and the sources of these allegations.

Updated information 26 Nov 07, the Caretaker government has asked NGOs not to demand loan repayments right now from cyclone survivors. Nonetheless, in a Daily Star article, Bilkis Begum would like her tk 80,000 microcredit debt cancelled because she feels like repayment is at least one year away. Md. Yunus of Grameen Bank explains why such debts cannot be cancelled, but that GB would offer 'interest free loans' tk 10,000 towards rebuilding account holders' houses, more time to pay off their debts and offers of new loans, e.g, more debt.

Post disaster recovery has both short and long term needs and activities. Already affected people are starting to rebuild, but what are their needs now and later? Donations on the ground and in the pipeline will help with the short-run needs, such as food, water, and shelter. At the same time donations are also needed for the long-term recovery of very poor people who have lost everything. This includes their destroyed crops almost ready for harvest after post summer floods replanting & loans, in their fish ponds, shrimp farming (3rd largest export earner) & business livelihoods, rebuilding of the infrastructures, and such structures such as much needed cyclone shelters. Many of the over 3000 shelters were unusable, overcrowded, or simply not available. As earlier noted by Rezwan, some of the post recovery funds-donations should be directed towards building more shelters.

Such disasters take a very big emotional toll on relief workers, readers, and people who care. Some people might feel a sense of disaster & donor fatigue, especially after the Indonesia Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and now Cyclone Sidr in 2007 (among others in the Gulf, Pakistan, and even more coming ashore in the Philippines) . BTW, Bangladesh donated $1 million in aid to the USA in response to Katrina!

Even if they know about Bangladesh and its location, others might feel that Bangladesh is an ongoing disaster with floods, political upheavals, and cyclones. I might have thought that, too, except for my stays and work in Bangladesh with resilient people who somehow bounce back and would still give their last grain of rice to a visitor. The problem is that many people on the coast have not a single grain of rice, a cooking pot, fire, or water.

I will leave for later my comments on the gendered nature of disasters and my analyses on patterns of aid, development, population growth that have resulted in large populations living in areas prone to cyclones, flooding, and earthquakes and dependent on export earnings and foreign aid. Or people living in high cost areas prone to regular wildfires or hurricanes (my home insurance rates are still higher from certain Atlantic-Gulf Coast hurricanes and I live far inland).

Hence, the people of Bangladesh and various relief agencies still need your donations. Places to donate can be found in earlier posts, or a convenient listing for people in the USA can be found on the website: This website, generated by an expat's USA company's programmers-staff (M2SYS Technology), lists links for some donors, news updates, and how you can raise awareness in your own community.

As Abdul Kargbo writes on why everyone should care, "Compassion Does not Recognize State Boundaries."

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