In cyclone-ravaged Bangladesh, worst may be yet to come

By Oxfam America

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When Cyclone Sidr struck their village, Tahmina's teenage son Masum cried out: "Mother, run, try to save yourself."

Tahmina clung to a tree throughout the night.

"The wind sounded like a killer, and the waves ate too high," she said. "I was on a coconut tree. The wave took me there. I had no clothes on me when the sea was gone."

When dawn broke, Tahmina discovered that her sons Masum, 17, and Monir, 13, were both dead. In her village in the southern Barguna region of Bangladesh many people lost their lives.

The people of Bangladesh are still picking up the pieces after their country was battered by Sidr. The intense storm killed more than 3,000 people, wrecked hundreds of thousands of homes, and caused massive loss and damage to crops. In total the storm is thought to have affected more than eight million people.

In another village, a boy named Rahim and his family have started rebuilding their home, which was destroyed in the cyclone. But great uncertainty lies ahead.

"Father can't go to the sea now," Rahim said, "because the boat he works in is lost and the nets are on top of the tree, tangled and torn. Some people are giving us cooked lunch every day in the cyclone shelter."

Oxfam has created cash for work programs in cyclone-affected villages so that people can earn a living while they recover from the storm. To support her family, Rahim's mother has taken a job in one of these programs, clearing the village pond for 100 taka a day, or about $1.50.

Women and men in the cash for work programs clear ponds of trees, branches, and other debris tossed there by the cyclone's winds. Since salinity is high on the coastal area, these ponds are often only source of drinking water for an entire village. The workers also remove trees from roads that were blocked by the storm.

Bangladesh is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. This is both because its population is so poor and because its low-lying geography on the Bay of Bengal makes it especially vulnerable to ocean-borne weather events.

Climate scientists forecast global warming will cause storms of increased intensity like Sidr, and that rainfall patterns will become more variable, leading to more floods and droughts. The sea level rise associated with global warming is also predicted to cause increasing salt content in the soil. These effects present a devastating challenge for a country where 70 percent of people rely on farming for their livelihoods.