Sirajul Hossain

Photographer & Naturalist

The Aila sufferings surfaces up in Sundarban periphery

Posted by sirajul on May 31, 2009

It was not even two years back when I remember the night the cyclone Sidr hit and I was awake almost the whole night in my room at 11th floor at the centre of Dhaka city. As usual, the electric supply failed when the wind speeded up. The big aluminum framed glass windows were vibrating vigorously with every blast of wind making noises that I never heard before. As a regular visitor to the satellite images and weather sites and blogs, I clearly had the idea that something was going to happen which was extraordinary. My sleeplessness was more due to that anxiety and less from the worry that any glass window may break and all my books and gadgets would be soaked immediately. In that stormy night three things serviced outstandingly without any interruption. My 2.2kVA UPS, my laptop and Grameen Phone’s internet service. These three devices kept me connected all night with NOAA weather satellite site, which update images with small interval, US marine satellite updates and some other weather stations worldwide. Updated every moment and with my previous experiences with cyclones in the Sundarban coast in the past, I could visualize what could be the situation there. And those were enough to take away the sleep of the night from the eyes of anybody whoever they are.

Aila Water1p

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satellite image shows surface water before (blue) and after (red) of the cyclone Aila as of May 27 ’09 (Source: ITHACA/WFP)

I didn’t have any problem sleeping the next night or the followings but many people had. Slowly the news started to come and as I was aware about the power and the magnitude of the event, I was especially keeping an eye on the current updates coming from all the sources. Slowly figuring once more the scale of the devastation it was again became difficult to continue regular life without thinking of doing something. Discussing with some friends we decided to go close to people. We donated whatever we could and many other friends supported us with whatever they could. Within a week we moved with a boat full of relief and saw in our own eyes the sufferings of villages after villages. About another week later we had another similar trip with relief. Of course our effort was insignificant to the scale of the disaster but at least about a thousand people got cloths, food, water, cooking pots etc. to sustain for at least about a week more. Above all, we saw tears of happiness in their eyes from the belief that in their misery people comes from hundreds of miles away to help. I felt at those moments that this is what people needed the most when they just revive from a shock, to stand on their feet again, to engage their hands again to build, to grow and to continue.

Some stories and images of those efforts are here:

https://shossain.wordpress.com/2007/12/13/sidr-in-sunderban-super-cyclone-in-bangladesh/

And here:

https://shossain.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/22/

The cyclone Aila came quite suddenly. Comparing the size and specially the strength Aila was much weaker than Sidr. While Sidr was a category 4 cyclone with wind speed about 240km/h, Aila was a category 1 storm with maximum wind speed of about 90km/h. Additionally when the landfall was in India, we were less worried of its effects and people’s sufferings in Bangladesh. But some special coincidences can add up which can affect people later although may not be by the first strike. Cyclones are the evil children of the rain. The primary effect of cyclone is the high speed wind that destroys human installations and trees. In the villages most of the injuries and causalities happen immediately from the fallen houses or trees. Roofs which are mostly made of leafs, grass or corrugated steel sheets fly away. Obviously rain follows with wind and spoils the preserved food, cloth and all belongings which make life miserable for the survivors. Especially in the islands and close coasts, in addition with the above, storm surge – the water from the sea rises and floods a large area. For both the above cyclones water raised about 13 to 15 feet above normal level. People leave their houses if the water level rises close to the ceiling. This violently turbulent water speeded up by the super fast wind even destroys concrete buildings, walls, dams and large trees whatever it finds in its way. Within a very short time all those water flushes away to the sea and people, boats and cattle float away. But in those places all the ponds – which are the only drinking water source in most of the coastal areas – floods with saline water. Many tube wells remain under water for weeks. Crop fields and vegetable gardens also get spoiled. For small dams and barriers and in the ponds and ditches saline water remains stagnant for months. This actually creates serious health concern due to drinking water and food shortage and contamination.

Two other factors along with the magnitude of the storm may make things worse. One is the moon phase during that period. Both Sidr and Aila hit within one or two days of new moon. This has influence with weather and also the height of the storm surge and tide because the sun and the moon’s gravity add up due to their aligned position. And the other factor is the synchronization with the tide. When Sidr was much stronger but the landfall was timed with the low tide, the effect of the tidal surge was less than expected. On the other hand Aila’s hit was actually in sync with the already high (due to new moon) high-tide. This coherence with the high tide made Aila also a suffering storm close to Sidr considering the after effects, although the magnitude and direct causality was far less. This sync with high tide also made the tidal water go much further inland flooding an unexpectedly vast area with saline water far away from the sea.

I had an extraordinary experience in last October in the peripheries of Sundarban west. As we go every year, in our 10 day diversity tour, we were visiting and photographing people and lifestyle of the riverbanks alongside the boundary of the mangrove. We stopped in one place where we saw less human activity and large flooded fields. Some people came by and noticed us about the “flood” which happened 15 days ago during the new moon. They were saying that the tide was extraordinarily high with a little storm which broke their protective dam and saline water entered to the villages. They do not know how to drain the water out again. The water flooded their shrimp fields, their drinking water ponds, their crop fields, vegetable gardens, houses, toilets – everything. They tried to repair the dam and drain out water but failed. As soon as they progressed with their limited ability, the next tide comes and flooded it again. After fighting for days many became frustrated and was hoping for government help which was equally invisible as their good fortune in the distant horizon. One old guy came to buy a boat to nearby bazaar and I asked him what was he going to use it for? He replied, because it was becoming too difficult to go to the toilet for the female members of his family, which was a little further away on the other end of the house. After a little conversation with him I understood that going to toilet frequently in the day or night became bigger priority of life there than anything else.

Affected1p

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estimated Affected Population of Aila (Source: DMIC/GOB)

One friend called from Shatkhira, asked me if we can do anything to help the people, specially if we could provide oral saline, water purification tablets, drinking water, dry food, skin ointment etc. From my experience I have seen, people who are living in a place which is easier to access by road gets immediate and enough support. We should give special priority to those places which are remote and which are difficult to access by road or river. Special priority should be given to the peripheries of Sundarban. Can we do anything, a little help for those three and half million people?

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4 Responses to “The Aila sufferings surfaces up in Sundarban periphery”

  1. Normally the Oral saline, the water purification tablets and perhaps the skin ointment should be available from the district Civil Surgeon office or the Upazila Nirbahi Officer or the health complex Medical Officer, as well as from the Red Crescent and local NGOs. I realize “should” is a theoretical concept and it is the logistics that make all the difference. There is a good network of cyclone shelters in the costal areas and may be the strategy would (and may be is) to stockpile ORS, water, and basic medicines and necessity. I have no idea what is currently being done for the victims. I will find out tomorrow what UNDP is doing.

    • sirajul said

      Pierre, my suggestions are not completely from theoretical perspectives. It is from the reports from the field from guys who are practically assessing what is necessary and distributing those things purchasing from shops from nearby cities. Theoretically those things “should” be available as you said but our previous experience (from Sidr) was not so pleasing. The local guys remain busy with government and other agencies that it becomes difficult to get them. Also we do not always pass by the proper administrative hubs so even if the stocks remains there but communicating and getting the proper guy and getting the stuff in time may not be so easy. The situation of the cyclone centers are pathetic (as we visited about five after Sidr) because all we saw were poorly managed and was very inadequate compared to the population allocated for each of them. Even if the NGO’s and government agencies work, there remain many pockets where goods do not reach. Which is especially true for the places near to the forest which are mostly far from the administrative centers and difficult to reach.

      It will be very helpful if you can find some info about if we can get some of those supplies somewhere from Dhaka.

  2. Dr Subrata Ghosh, Epidemiologist, ICMR said

    It is a very good effort and guidance for community awareness.

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