Last summer, Bangladesh was struck by heavy monsoon rains which caused over 20 districts across northern and southern parts of the country to become inundated with flood water. 3.3 million people were affected and there was widespread flooding of farming land, which caused severe damage to crops, livestock and fisheries.
Jamalpur in northern Bangladesh was the worst affected area, with almost 1 million people impacted and 60% of the land flooded. While many families have since returned to their homes, around half of the population of the Dewangonj area in Jamalpur were forced to abandon their homes as a result of the flooding.
To make matters even more complicated, Bangladesh is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 540,000 people have so far been infected and the number of cases continues to grow at an alarming rate.
Suruz Mia (pictured) was badly impacted by the monsoon flooding. Suruz lives in a mud brick house in Kala Kanda village in Dewangonj with his wife, daughter-in-law and two of his five sons. Situated in a low-lying area, over 90% of the houses in the village were submerged under flood water.
Thanks to Irish Aid support, Suruz received cash from Christian Aid’s local partner Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) to buy food as well as reusable facemasks and hand sanitiser to help protect him and his family from catching and passing on coronavirus.
Suruz was paralyzed four years ago following an illness and as result could no longer work as a farm labourer. To get by, he had no choice but to borrow money from local moneylenders at high interest rates. Suruz’s eldest son used to work as a mason and helped him to repay his loans but due to Bangladesh’s lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, he became unemployed for six months and was no longer able to contribute towards Suruz’s repayments. This resulted in Suruz being threatened by the moneylenders many times.
Suruz’s situation became even worse when flooding caused by monsoon rains forced his house under water for over two weeks causing extensive damage as well as destroying his kitchen garden where the family grew food to feed themselves. Most of his livestock was also washed away. Faced with no means to feed his family, Suruz was forced to sell his few remaining chickens spared by the flooding at cut price in order to raise what money he could to buy food.
The flooding was also devastating for 38-year-old mother Morjina Begum who lives two and half kilometres away from Suruz in a small corrugated iron hut in Basedpur village, Dewangonj with her mother and two teenage children. Before the flooding, she was barely able to get by with the income she earned working as a maid in several nearby houses.
In July, Morijna’s house was one of over 600 in her village to be submerged under water and like her fellow villagers she was forced to take shelter elsewhere. In the absence of a dedicated flood shelter in her village, many sought shelters wherever they could, from nearby hills to roadsides or underneath bridges. Morjina was able to stay with her family in a neighbour’s house which was partially damaged but not without risk.
In the flooding’s aftermath, the damage to people’s homes as well as the risk of coronavirus spreading meant that Morjina was out of work, increasing her family’s vulnerability further still. To survive, Morjina sold some of the family’s last remaining goats for cash and they scaled back to just one meal a day, and sometimes none at all, as their financial hardship increased.
“I had no income and no food at home. My elderly mother and my beloved children went to bed without a meal”, Morjina recalls. “I cried many nights; nobody came to help us. My 14-yeard old son used to catch fish and sell it in the local market, but that was not enough to feed four family members,” she added.
With funding from Irish Aid, Christian Aid through local partner Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) was able to respond in the two worst impacted areas in Jamalpur district, Dewangonj and Melandi.
Suruz and Morjina’s families were amongst the 2,400 most vulnerable impacted families provided with the equivalent of €32 in cash to be able to buy food, medicine and to help with the costs of repairing their damaged homes as well as kits containing soap, reusable face masks and hand sanitiser to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus. Sanitary towels were also included to ensure women and girls had added support.
With the cash she received, Morjina was able to buy food, school books to help her daughter to continue with her education and a mobile phone to be able to listen in to weather bulletins and flood warnings broadcast on local radio to help keep her family safe and reach relatives when in need of help.
“Me and my family eat with a full stomach after a long time. I am so thankful to everyone who helped us”, says Morjina.
For Suruz, the support he received was a much-welcomed relief at a time of ever-growing hardship. “After receiving the cash, I paid back my debt to the local grocery store and an instalment of my debt to a moneylender. With the rest of the money, I bought rice, oil, pulses, vegetables, potatoes, salt and small fish to feed my family”, he said.
“Me and my family feel safe from coronavirus using the face masks and hand sanitizer we received when leaving our home”, he added.
“The support came in time and I am very grateful to DAM, Christian Aid and Irish Aid for supporting me and many others who have been badly affected by the monsoon flooding and coronavirus in my village”, Suruz concluded.