Humanitarian worker conducting needs assessment in Sylhet district. Credit: OXFAM
In late June, 108 people were killed and more than 60,000 people were displaced in south-eastern Bangladesh following a series of landslides and flash floods caused by three consecutive days of torrential monsoon rains. Large parts of the port city of Chittagong, including Cox's Bazaar and Bandarban, were completely devastated.
After the initial rescue operations by the army, fire service and civil defence, the National Disaster Response Coordination Center (NDRCC) coordinated the humanitarian response with international partners, providing water, food, medicine and shelter.
Gerson Brandao, an OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer, was appointed the Humanitarian Adviser to the Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh to help improve humanitarian coordination and strengthen partnerships with local authorities.
Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Situated on the Ganges Delta, over 75 per cent of the South Asian nation is less than 10 metres above sea level. During the monsoon season (June to September), about 18 per cent of the land is flooded, affecting thousands of people and destroying many homes.
I joined the OCHA team in Bangladesh in March this year to help strengthen humanitarian efforts before and during disasters, and to support the local early warning and response systems.
Three months after I arrived, torrential rains led to flash floods and landslides in eastern Bangladesh, resulting in over 100 casulties and mass displacement. According to the Government, the extensive loss of rice padi and livestock in the region affected millions of people whose livelihoods depended on agriculture.
Working closely with national and international partners, NDRCC coordinated the humanitarian response to the widespread flooding and provided emergency aid. For the first time in Bangladesh, a multi-sector initial rapid assessment, or MIRA, was conducted soon after the disaster to provide a comprehensive picture of the immediate needs of affected communities.
As a member of the assessment team, I went into the affected areas to find out exactly what the communities needed to cope with the crisis. We worked with local authorities who had extensive knowledge and experience in identifying needs and proposing appropriate solutions.
Within three days, more than 100 humanitarian workers from 47 organizations visited 36 villages in five districts, meeting thousands of people, most of them in urgent need of temporary shelter, clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and food.
I was amazed by the resilience of the people who, despite losing all their belongings, remained optimistic that the water would soon recede, and that life could go back to normal, at least until the next rainy season.
Building on lessons learned from this experience, the humanitarian community is now using the information to help the Government plan long-term support, and to help communities become more resilient to future disasters.
Reporting by Gerson Brandao and James St. John Cox
24 July 2012 - 11:28am