• Friday, Sep 30, 2022
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Cyclone Aila: 12 years on, wounds yet to heal

  • Published at 12:53 pm May 25th, 2021
embankment water river Satkhira Shyamnagar Assasuni
Water breaches through an embankment after rivers swelled due to high tide in Shyamnagar and Assasuni upazilas in Satkhira on Thurdsday, August 20, 2020 Dhaka Tribune

At least 73 lives were lost during Cyclone Aila which hit the coastal areas on May 25, 2009

Twelve years have gone by since the severe cyclonic storm Aila hit the coastal areas of Satkhira, but the scars are yet to heal.

People of such affected areas as Gabura and Padmapukur in Shyamnagar upazila and Pratapnagar in Asashuni upazila have not yet been able to return to a normal life, reports our Satkhira correspondent.

New roads and houses have been built since then, but agricultural work came to a standstill in the area due to water salinity, while shrimp farming is also in recession. The embankments of the Kopotaksh and Kholpetua rivers are also in critical conditions.

Meanwhile, fear of Cyclone Yaas hitting the coastal areas of Satkhira, which was ravaged by earlier cyclonic storms like Fani, Bulbul and Amphan, is creating a sense of deja vu and renewed panic among the people of the area.

Due to a lack of employment, thousands of people of Satkhira’s villages have uprooted themselves and settled down elsewhere for a better livelihood.

The damage and destruction

Gabura Union Parishad Chairman Masud Alam said that on this day in 2009, the lashing - lasting only 30 minutes - of Cyclone Aila completely destroyed Gabura and Padmapukur unions of Shyamnagar upazila. Meanwhile, Pratapnagar union of Asashuni upazila was also devastated.

Masud Alam said: “Aila snatched 73 lives from 36 villages in an instant. Thousands of homeless people took refuge along roadsides and higher places as river embankments burst and flooded.

“After two long years, they finally got houses through a government-private initiative. But there is still no work in the area and it is difficult for them to survive in the face of repeated disasters. The affected people are going out [of Satkhira] in search of work,” he added.

Also Read - Cyclone Yaas might inundate 14 districts

“The state of health care in the community clinics is fragile. The embankments are in alarming conditions. Educational institutions are facing many problems. There is an acute shortage of potable water. 

“In the intense heat of Ramadan, people had to drink saline water. The district council ponds allotted for potable water have not yet returned to normalcy as they were washed away in last year's [Cyclone] Amphan,” he further said.

Abu Bakkar Siddique, a farmer from Khalisabunia village in Gabura union, said the embankment collapsed due to Aila in 2009.

“Although the dam was ‘officially’ repaired, it is not strong enough, which keeps people in a state of panic during every tide. We do not want relief [aid], we want embankments,” he said.

Motorbike moving on bricks laid randomly on road that went under water after Amphan broke embankments in Assasuni upazila. Photo captured on July 10, 2020 | Dhaka Tribune

Mofizul Islam of Chawkbara village said he had more than three acres of agricultural land before Aila. “There has been no agricultural work after Aila and Amphan. All lands have been turned into shrimp enclosures.

For six months Mofiz works in a brickyard and sits idle at home for the next six months.

Local residents said that, post-Aila, Gabura had turned into a small island in Satkhira. Water had to be fetched from a distance. Being unable to take in the saline water, they suffered from diarrhoea.

Moreover, there had been various skin diseases, including sores and scabies, due to the contaminated water. No doctors or nurses were available. They had to go far, all the way to Shyamnagar, to see a doctor and the commuting was a disaster, they added.

Dalim Kumar Gharami, panel chairman of Satkhira district council, said no such initiative was taken in 2009 to improve the lives of the people after Aila. Residents had been moving to Dhaka, Khulna, and Jessore for alternative employment, and were making a living by driving rickshaws, vans and easy bikes.

Also Read: Yaas: Satkhira rivers adjoining Sundarbans swelling

The health care of the people of this area has not been ensured. For treatment, one has to go to Shyamnagar, which is 25km away. The condition of the embankments is bad. Though ministers have visited the area a few times, changes did not happen accordingly. Meanwhile, people were suffering from a lack of potable water, the panel chairman added.

Satkhira Deputy Commissioner SM Mostafa Kamal said that on May 25, 2009, the coastal area was flooded due to the severe tidal waves that formed due to Cyclone Aila. Tidal waves almost 15ft high hit Shyamnagar and Assasuni upazilas of the Sundarbans and the Satkhira coast.

Cyclone Aila left 73 women, men and children of the three unions dead. Thousands of families became homeless overnight. Coastal embankments along with health, religious and educational institutions were destroyed.

The people of the coastal area were severely affected again when Fani hit on May 4, 2019, and Amphan on May 20, 2020.

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