Sirajul Hossain

Photographer & Naturalist

Posts Tagged ‘village’

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:

And here:

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.













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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Sidr in Sunderban: The Faces of Sidr…

Posted by sirajul on November 29, 2007

Super Cyclone in Bangladesh


The Faces of Sidr…


_mg_5759-01.jpg A worried mother

Retired old head master from the local school hold my hand and burst into tears, said “We do not need anything sir, just listen to our horrible story and how we survived that night. If it would stay fifteen more minute, we wouldn’t be standing here.”  His wife said, sir, we are respectable people here, we are shy to ask anything from anybody, there are no food in the house. We do not know how to feed those children from tomorrow. Our boys and girls cannot go to the river bank and struggle for the relief, they are not used to. The same said another old guy, claiming he was the doctor in the village but now lost everything. A man came out, who had a poultry firm having 3000 chicken. All died and buried in front of his house. He said with a pale smile, “There is no difference between rich and poor anymore here, the cyclone made us all equal”.

 _mg_5868-01.jpg Still cannot forget the horror

There were no different stories from 302 houses we visited having 1650 people living. They are grateful and equally surprised that they are still alive. Mother was standing numb in front of the wreckage of the nice wooden house. When the water came in and the roof of the house was taken away, she tried to move to the school building just in the other side of the road. Suddenly the road broke and powerful current took away both her children from her hand, she did not find them yet. She does not believe that they are dead, she will be waiting for them, may be all her life, who knows. Another woman said, as the water rose, she and her neighbor staying in the same house guessed that they are not safe anymore. She put her neighbor’s three month old baby in a cooking pan and covered it with a big bowl and kept her floating on the water. They themselves climbed up on a tree and tied up with the branches. The mother lost her consciousness immediately but finally all survived.

 _mg_4912-01.jpg Forester describing with tears

When you see those faces opens up: shocked, suffered and survived, it is very difficult to stay calm and work normally. Overpowering their beauty and richness, poverty and cruelty one thing is settling in every faces, a pale sad numbness. It becomes impossible to hide your own emotional reaction. I was very much surprised by seeing, even after seven days, nothing has changed! It is like time has stopped after that night. The fallen trees are still there on the roads and on the houses. The roofs are still broken as it happened. Ponds and domestic arenas are still filled with debris and leaf from the broken branches. At first I thought, may be these people are lazy, or they are trying to fool the outsiders by showing the devastation to get more relief. May be there are a handful of them doing that. But what I found out that most of them actually lost their thoughts. I saw men are sitting in a place for hours, woman are standing on the door forgetting everything. They do not know what to do, forgot what to think. Only they are hungry by their biological cycle and again the numbness returns. Many of them, you can say by looking at their faces, never imagined that they have to survive on other people’s giving, in their present life.

 _mg_5643-01.jpg Many cannot ask

Most people of these villages were boat owners, fishermen or forest dwellers like grass cutters. I know from my experience that these people are the hardest working people living in the edges of the forest. Almost all of them lost their boat and their nets. Some has land and other businesses. All the crops, mainly paddy became spoiled and the next crop will not come in their home until next year. Seasonal vegitables, another profitable crop has also no chance this year because of the saline deposition. It was all surprising, these people who lives the village and around never saw anything like these before. Only that old headmaster said he experienced something similar in 1965, but it was long forgotten.

_mg_5022-01.jpg  There were a kitchen once

We saw on TV how the most of the people including many govt. organizations are distributing relief goods. If we distribute goods by making a queue on the local market or on the river bank, a lot of people will come and will join in the queue. It is very difficult to keep the mob in control. Similarly it is impossible to prevent some smart guys who join the queue again and again. In this way many people who do not have any smart and dashing guys in the family actually do not get anything and starve. Also people who are living in the remote areas where it is difficult to access or far from any transport access, gets very less because news comes to them quite late.  Often the goods finishes when they arrive at the distribution point after a long walk.

_mg_5850-01.jpg Baby born just days befiore

To make our distribution efficient and to keep it under control we invented some methods. We wanted to reach to the places where communication is difficult. For that reason we entered the village from the South, from the sea side. Also we selected the area which has been severely affected by the storm and tidal surge. We wanted to reach to the middle class people who has no food in the house but unable to struggle for it. We made a small team who actually started walking house to house and discussed with the people living there. Then we made a note of what they might need and then we handed a slip to them to collect the material from the boat. In this way we believe we managed to provide people what they desperately need. This also made a humanistic connection between us and them and they found some people to talk and share their experience. We distributed mostly to Shoronkhola in Khurikhali and adjacent area. On our way we provided enough drinkable water and a good quantity of material to at least 10 forest offices and to many fishermen we found nearby. As you all know, like the villagers, forest offices also lost everything they had and their official supply was still to come.

_mg_5303-01.jpg      Most of the houses destroyed

I collected from myself, family, friends and colleagues about Tk.1,69,000.(Thanks to all of them), and about 12 sacs of used cloths, some dry food etc. Dr. Halder and Mr. Philip collected about Tk. 50,000, some cloths, 40 Boxes of Biscuit, 3 sacs of Chira, 1 sac of molasses, 50 blankets, etc.  Guide Tours added Tk. 1,00,000, and kindly provided their boat Chuti. Another friend donated Tk 30,000.

_mg_5854-01.jpg  Smile after getting the goods

With all those funds about Tk. 3,50,000 we purchased 3000 kg of rice, 20 sacs of Dal, Potato, Onion, Oil, Salt, emergency medicine etc. We made small bags containing 3kgs of rice and all other material proportionately. We also bought 300 cooking pots, 4 litre water carrying containeer about 650, plastic glasses and 10 ton of drinking water. Our “evaluate and issue” method worked beautifully and there were absolutely no chaos on distribution. I specially thank Mr. Bachchu and all the crew of Chuti for their enthusiastic support and hard work to make it all happen in a very organized way. Without their help it would be impossible to manage. 

_mg_5859-01.jpg  Long walk from the boat

All the relief operations by government and private are still insignificant and still they need more food supply to survive and to return back to work. Baby food is urgent as well as support for drinking water system restoration, house building and support for business and cultivation is also necessery. We are planning for another trip soon. 

_mg_4650-01.jpg  Katka, the graveyard


I will write about Sunderban in another post.

Thanks to all and specially to those who supported by their heart and hand.



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