Triple Disasters of Flooding, Corona and Lost Livelihoods

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Aug 5 2020 (IPS) – With nearly 5.5 million people across Bangladesh affected by severe flooding — the worst in two decades — experts are concerned that millions of people, already badly impacted by COVID-19, will be pushed further into poverty.
With a third of the country under water, the National Disaster Response Coordination Centre in Bangladesh has reported that some 5.5 million people or nearly a million families were affected by the flooding as of Tuesday, Aug. 4. The Health Emergency Control Room has recorded at least 145 deaths, mostly from drowning or snakebites, in 33 of the 64 districts affected by flooding.
In the past three days alone, two more districts were freshly inundated by heavy rains, affecting nearly half a million more people.
• The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) said in an Aug. 4 report that heavy monsoon rains in upstream regions continued to cause flooding in Bangladesh’s districts in the north, north-east and south-east, affecting some 5.4 million people.
• June to August is typically the monsoon season here, but since the start of June heavy rains have resulted in many of the country’s rivers reaching levels classified as “dangerous”.
• UN OCHA said the flooding had damaged houses, dykes, embankments, safe water sources and hygiene facilities and also adversely affected livelihoods, especially in the agricultural sector. It had also disrupted access to basic services such as health care and education.
“I have lost everything in the river Jamuna – my home, my croplands… it went under water so swiftly that I couldn’t save my belongings either,” Abdur Rahman from Sirajganj region, north-central Bangladesh said.
A number of low-lying areas in Sirajganj were affected by flooding when the Jamuna river levels rose in July, leaving hundreds homeless. The Jamuna and Padma rivers are two of the country’s main rivers. The Padma, the main distributary of the Ganges, also burst it banks last month. In several districts, school buildings, roads and other structures were destroyed.
It is not just Bangladesh that is affected. Flooding has wreaked havoc across a large part of South Asia. In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan several million people have been affected and scores killed. Assam, Bihar and part of West Bengal were the worst-affected states in India.
“People in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are sandwiched in a triple disaster of flooding, coronavirus and an associated socioeconomic crisis of loss of livelihoods and jobs,” Jagan Chapagain, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.
“Millions of people across Bangladesh, India and Nepal have been marooned, their homes damaged and crops destroyed by floods that are the worst in recent years,” Chaplain added.
He said the flooding of farm lands and destruction of crops could push millions of people, already badly impacted by COVID-19, further into poverty.
In Bangladesh, the worst affected are those who have become paupers overnight as they lost their homes, belongings and croplands.
In some districts, entire villages are under water, forcing people to leave their homes in search of safety while many were seen crouching on rooftops waiting for rescue. In the flooded northern districts in Bangladesh, it was a common sight of villagers marooned on the roofs of their houses along with their livestock or poultry while many others sought shelter on embankments or roads.
Arif Hossain from Munshiganj District, central Bangladesh, was a tailor by profession before the coronavirus pandemic. Now he spends his days ferrying people in the submerged locality on his small boat.
In central Bangladesh, major rivers continue to overflow, causing heavy flooding to ravage low-lying parts of the capital, Dhaka. In adjoining districts and northern parts of the country much of the population, who have already been affected by the coronavirus lockdowns, are in dire straits. Poorly-prepared relief operations have aggravated the plight of victims, triggering public anger and widespread criticism of the government.
“I haven’t received any kind of aid,” Hossain told IPS.
“Many people in the areas left the villages… those who have no place to go, like me, are staying here in homes that are already [flooded],” Hossain told IPS adding, “We’re staying in a room submerged in knee-deep water… my two children are always scared of snakes.”
• The flooding is the second natural disaster that the country has had to deal with in as many months. In May, Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the midst of the country’s coronavirus lockdown. More than 2.4 million people and over half a million livestock had to be evacuated from the in the coastal districts of Khulna, Satkheera, Jessore, Rajbadi and Sirajganj.
Manju Begum, 85, who lives alone in Medeni Mandal in Munshiganj District, central Bangladesh, 55 kilometres from the capital, decried the non-action of local public representatives. She told IPS that nobody from her local government had offered her assistance after her home had been flooded.
“Floodwater entered my bedroom eight days ago… I got a little amount of food only from my neighbours,” she said.
However, last week Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked all government officials to remain prepared to extend support to those affected by the floods. She assured the country that extensive assistance would be given to the flood victims.
Bangladesh state minister for disaster management and relief Md. Enamur Rahman said they had formed six committees to monitor the activities of government relief assistance programmes.
The government has distributed cash, rice and other materials to those affected by the flooding and allocations would be increased if needed, Rahman said at a press conference in Dhaka last week.
Mostak Hussain, humanitarian director for Save the Children in Bangladesh, said nearly two million children here were affected by the longest-lasting floods in over 20 years.
“This has been a devastating monsoon so far and we’re only halfway through the season,” he said.
The flooding has also left a large number of women affected as their livelihoods such as livestock, poultry farming, vegetable cultivation or tailoring have come to a halt. Initially, they faced setbacks to income generation as the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the country being shut down.
“I took a loan from an NGO and started a poultry farm a couple of years ago, but I was forced to sell the chickens at a cheaper price as water inundated my house… now I’m not sure how would I repay the loan or maintain the family expenditure as I don’t have any work,” Shahana Begum, a widow, told IPS.