When Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh on November 15, 2007, many people had managed to get out of harm's way before the tidal surge and winds up to 133-miles per hour slammed into their southern coastal communities.
But when they returned, the full impact of the strongest storm in 16 years was all too clear. Sidr killed at least 2,837 people, destroyed or damaged more than 1.1 million homes, and hurt nearly one and a half million acres of cropland.
"There are so many people without homes or basic sanitation, and who are now likely to be unable to get food, that Bangladesh is facing its most serious humanitarian disaster in many decades," said Heather Blackwell, head of Oxfam International in Bangladesh.
Oxfam is responding with an initial $8.5 million emergency relief effort that will provide up to 153,000 people with clean water and nutritional support. Additionally, the program will offer 15,000 households the means to construct temporary shelters. And as many as 400 latrines will also be built—with a design that will ensure privacy for women.
"People urgently need drinking water, food, and medical support," said Enamul Hoque, a public health advisor working with Oxfam on the response. "Many areas are completely cut off from receiving supplies and markets have been destroyed. There is a need for markets to start functioning properly."
Meeting the need for water
Assessment teams visiting the devastated region have reported that dead animals and debris have contaminated many of the ponds on which most people depend for their drinking, washing, and cooking water. The potential for the spread of waterborne diseases, including cholera, remains high.
Oxfam and its partners are working with communities to clean up the ponds and dispose of the animal carcasses. And though access remains difficult, Oxfam has also started to transport water to some of the more remote areas. We plan to install up to 100 solar desalination stills—as a pilot project—in some of those remote areas to provide drinking water.
Our response plans also call for the distribution of water treatment materials to 15,000 households that will allow them to improve water quality to a satisfactory level. In addition, we will provide up to 200 temporary shallow-tube wells in areas where seawater has contaminated the surface.
Food and Other Essentials
Sidr caused massive damage to crops in the coastal region which will have both an immediate and long-term effect on Bangladesh. Severe floods in the north a few months earlier also hit the agriculture sector hard, and with the price of food now spiking, aid workers are concerned that people will not have enough to eat.
Oxfam plans to provide supplemental rations for up to 30,000 households for three months. The distribution, intended to complement food programs undertaken by other groups, will meet about 35 percent of each household's food needs.
In addition, Oxfam will distribute basic goods to 30,000 households. Many families lost everything—clothes, tools, animals—and have no means for replacing them. Our distribution of household goods includes buckets, jugs, mugs, blankets, saris, kitchen utensils, and soap.