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‘Incredible’ response to Sidr

Care Bangladesh has been involved in the relief operation since cyclone Sidr made landfall in the southern coasts on November 15. Its country director, Nick Southern, talked about the local, national and international response in the aftermath of the cyclone, which killed more than 3,000 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless, in an interview with New Age recently. Faheem Khan, team leader of Shouhardo, one of the Care initiatives in Bangladesh, also took part in the conversation. Excerpts:

What is the overall situation of aid in Bangladesh after the cyclone?
Nick Southern: I think the response has been incredible. Bangladesh has had many disasters and natural calamities. The death toll this time around has been much lower than what it used to be previously. Also, we now see an international commitment towards Bangladesh. Many countries are pouring in aid for Bangladesh as it goes through such a difficult time.

I would say this is a good opportunity for Bangladesh to address issues that need to be resolved. Moreover, internationally, an issue such as global warming is also going to become more prominent, especially because Bangladesh is one of the worst-affected countries even though it has no contribution to the issue of climate change.

How was the response at the local level? Is there sufficient information available?
NS: I think the response was commendable – both before the cyclone hit the regions and in the aftermath. We can say this because the government efforts to ensure that people are aware was much better than before. There were volunteers on the road till the last minute warning people of the cyclone. However, there was also the issue of a significant number of people not being aware, but then again, we must understand that many anticipated it would be a storm surge rather than cyclone. Moreover, the cyclone went the opposite direction and it took a while to react to it.
The death toll has been much less this time and the rescue operation has been very prominent. I would say there is more information available at the moment. The estimates of death tolls are also closer among various bodies. Although the communication lines were cut off immediately after the cyclone hit, steps were taken to ensure to make the operation faster. There is also much more development work going on and more concrete steps being taken.

Care is one of the organisations participating in the relief work. What are the things that you are doing?
Faheem Khan: We anticipated that the cyclone would hit and sent a team on Wednesday (November 14) midnight to Khulna. We sent out two trucks of non-food items such as candles, plastic sheets and others. We also provided for a mobile water purifying plant. Initially, we had about 13 volunteers, but at this moment it has expanded to some 40 people who are working in Barguna and Sarankhola in Bagerhat.

NS: One of the challenges was that usually such disasters hit the south-eastern region, where the community is more prepared and aware. In the southern belt, it’s the first time that such a cyclone has hit and hence the awareness of people was very low. Hence, we have had to ensure that we can cater to them and also provide information.

Until now, we have distributed 1,100 tonnes of food. Around half a million dollars’ budget is being processed to reach out to more people. We already have $2 million in the pipeline as well.

The USAID has been one of the major donors in this case. Apart from many other donors, we have funding from the Canadian and Australian governments, Microsoft Bangladesh and others. We are also working through four major partners – RIC, Prodipan, Coast and SAP Bangladesh.

In terms of taking immediate as well as long-term steps for disaster management, what do you think could be done?
FK: We do have a central coordination body, Disaster Emergency Response, which works with different agencies in order to take immediate steps when such a situation arises.

NS: I think the important thing is to set out priorities. There are about 5 million people who have been affected by the cyclone. There are a significant number of people who have lost almost everything – so we need to reach out to these people who need it more than perhaps the rest. Being able to identify such priorities and also have immediate decision makers in those areas.

In case of disaster management, CARE has been working with ADPC based in Bangkok and planning on issues of earthquake preparedness and flood forecasting.
We are in fact developing software that can forecast a cyclone 10 days in advance and determine its level and intensity, and also chart the probable regions it may hit. We are hoping to pilot it this season. This early flood forecasting software is in the analysis stage. We are now looking to make others aware as to how to interpret it and how they will be able to react to it.

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