A disaster that continues
When the tidal water enters a village unhindered through a collapsed embankment, it leaves more than just a wreckage of destroyed houses; roads; ponds; crop fields, home gardens, etc. These tidal water and cyclonic storm surges leave people helpless, threatening their lives, livelihood, shelter and access to food. When Cyclone Amphan made landfall on May 20, 2020, the people living in the coastal belt of Bangladesh were already suffering from the aftershocks of COVID-19 pandemic.
While many people were suffering from job loss due to the pandemic and lockdown, Amphan came like a major blow. People became helpless running from one place to another with no work in the area and no income source. Ensuring three meals a day became a luxury for many. Many families were grateful to be able to earn just Tk100-200 a day or get 5-10Kgs of rice as relief.
While May 2021 marks the first anniversary of the cyclone, many people haven’t not been able to return to normal still. The losses they incurred have been too hard to overcome. Shrimp farmers and agri farmers suffered from big losses. Eleven months later, the embankment was repaired, but many areas are still underwater. The embankments are still very weak. If not by the next cyclone, high tides can break these embankments in many places.
Though Cyclone Amphan has caused major damage, very little relief made it to the people. Locals say the relief has been sufficient for a maximum of one month's worth of food. The remaining five months have been very difficult. Many people are spending their days borrowing money. But how long? What is the long-term impact of Cyclone Amphan on the west coast of Bangladesh?
Over time what we can see in these pictures has become a very common and tolerable scenario for the people in this area But anyone from outside will be surprised at the sight! This is where I turn my camera toward. The trees in this area seem to be weeping. No one is listening to their cries. Where there were green plants, there are now zero green villages. Somewhere dead trees are standing in the water. All the plants in these areas are dying after being submerged in saltwater for about six months. Crop fields, shrimp farms are all underwater.
Post-Amphan, the housing crisis has been evident in many places on the west coast of Bangladesh. Someone's house is submerged in water or is washed away by tidal water. Moreover, with the increase in river erosion, many houses that were far from the water are now close to the river susceptible to erosion. Due to these persisting risks, some are living in houses with high decks. Many have built houses on the roads and embankment. Many have moved to homes of relatives, while many people are being forced to leave the area due to lack of shelter and no means of earning a living.
Many people on the west coast of Bangladesh lived temporarily in different places for at least six months after the cyclone. Some lived in cyclone shelters, some in school buildings, some in madrasa buildings. A few families even lived at the launch terminal. Those who have not had the opportunity to find shelter in a building are somehow living under the open sky. Classrooms of many schools and madrasas are now housing 4-5 families cramped in one room surviving in a very inhuman way. The families are cooking by making an oven in one corner of the room.
Waiting for hope and relief
While some people have left the area permanently; many people have been temporarily displaced. Many are waiting for some assistance or a means to go somewhere that is not as devastated as their current home.
Lack of employment
The lack of employment took a deadly shape post-Amphan. Workplaces and opportunities in the area have shrunk. IRRI paddy was sown in the area which was washed away with the stormwater from the cyclone. Aman paddy was not planted in many places as croplands were submerged in water, additionally, many shrimp farms were underwater. With the roads, damaged rickshaws, vans and motorbikes were not running. The number of unemployed people has increased a lot. Many people are rushing to the city in search of work.
The drinking water crisis in the area has intensified as most deep tube wells have become submerged by saline water. There has never been a water crisis in this area before, but that changed after cyclone Amphan. Water now has to be collected by travelling some distance. Not only drinking water but also the lack of water used for other purposes including bathing has taken a serious turn.
Road communication in the area has been weakened after the cyclone. In many places, there are no more paved roads due to the damage from the cyclone. The Brick Soling Road has been washed away by the tidal waters. The whole area seems to have become a remote village.
Previous cyclones showed how weak embankment has created a serious crisis in the area. Cyclone Sidr hit in 2007, Cyclone Ayla hit in 2009, Cyclone Fani in 2019 and Cyclone Bulbul hit the same year. With so many cyclones hitting the coast the locals have demanded that a strong embankment be built. But no initiative was taken to build a strong embankment. The embankment was built in this area in the sixties. Since then only the embankment has been repaired. As a result, the embankment has gradually weakened.
Rafiqul Islam Montu is an award-winning Bangladeshi independent journalist and coastal journalism specialist. He is a contributing reporter for The Guardian (UK), The Third Pole (UK), Gaon Connection (India), and Risingbd (Bangladesh). He is Fellow of Internews's Earth Journalism Network (UK). Has been involved in journalism for over 30 years. He is a pioneering figure in coastal journalism.