BARGUNA, Bangladesh, 29 June 2009 – Cyclone Aila swept through south-west Bangladesh on 25 May, reducing homes to rubble, destroying crops and leaving villagers without safe water or sanitation. In the weeks since, local communities have been struggling to cope with the storm's impact.
People had barely recovered from the devastation of last year’s Cyclone Sidr when Cyclone Aila struck, affecting more than 4 million people.
In the remote coastal village of Hoglapasha, an old timber house with a palm leaf roof belonging to 80-year-old Nirod Chandra Roy was reduced to debris. Mr. Roy built a makeshift shelter with the bits and pieces of his old home that he found lying around. He survived in this shelter, without food or water, until relief workers finally were able to reach him.
“We were under chest-deep water for at least three days and hardly had any dry place for shelter. With surging tides and gusts, Aila swept away almost everything,” Mr. Roy said, visibly shaken.
Young volunteers help families
Now, a UNICEF-supported programme called ‘Empowerment of Adolescents’ is giving cyclone-affected villagers hope and disseminating life-saving information during a difficult time. Through the programme, young people have been trained on how to help minimize the damage to life and property – as well as give moral support to community members – in pre- and post-disaster situations.
The volunteers work in conjuction with the Department of Public Health Engineering to reach out to cyclone-affected families. They teach villagers how to make sure their water is safe to drink and how to prepare oral saline solutions for treating dehydration.
The programme is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNICEF in collaboration with a non-governmental organization, the Centre for Mass Education and Science. Since May, the centre has been training adolescents in disaster-prone communities to help their own families, as well as the families of their neighbours, during emergencies.
‘They give us motivation to fight’
Young volunteers visited Mr. Roy in his shelter, bringing him UNICEF-supplied water purification tablets and jerry cans. They also provided support and hope for the future. “It is hard for families who’ve lost almost everything to survive and make a normal living,” said one of the volunteers in Hoglapasha village, Monoj Mojumdar.
After leaving Mr. Roy's shelter, the volunteers visited a fisherman’s family. They explained how several folds of used cotton cloth can help filter contaminated pond water before boiling.
The volunteers regularly visit about 50 families to make sure they are drinking safe water and maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation practices. “We are encouraged by seeing those young children,” said villager Biba Rani. “They give us motivation to fight.”