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Charity proposes simple ideas to help flood-hit Bangladeshis save lives

17 December 2021

Shahadat Hossain/Tearfund

A child has a swimming lesson wearing a life jacket made from empty plastic bottles

A child has a swimming lesson wearing a life jacket made from empty plastic bottles

PEOPLE in cyclone-prone Bangladesh are being taught novel but effective ideas for saving lives when disastrous flooding strikes. They include turning plastic bottles into children’s life jackets, and plastic drums into rafts for adults.

The project was supported by the Christian international development charity Tearfund, which is appealing for funds for its work with people around the world affected by the climate crisis.

In Bangladesh, where four-fifths of the country is in a floodplain, and there can be four of five floods in an average year, Tearfund helps local agencies to train communities in storing household items and important documents safely, often by burying them underground, and making portable emergency stoves. They teach first aid, search-and-rescue methods, and pay for tree-planting to provide flood barriers.

It was the destruction after one cyclone which motivated one woman, Juliet, to train through her church, with Tearfund’s local partner, World Concern Bangladesh. “We were speechless, seeing the unparalleled power of nature,” she said. Now, she passes on her knowledge in her village in the low-lying coastal Kalapara Upazila area through weekly meetings, house-to-house visits, and phone calls.

“Our preparation starts in April or May,” she said. “We repair the plinths our houses sit on, and tie the houses with rope so that wind cannot blow them away. We keep money ready, store dry food, and collect candles in case of electricity failure.”

They also hold practice drills, and allocate community duties, including early-warning routines, search and rescue, first aid, and damage assessment. Ward disaster-management committees are trained to identify larger projects, such as maintaining raised roads and connecting communities to cyclone shelters.

Even hair-braiding techniques are taught to Bengali women. They often grow their hair very long, and some have drowned when it snagged on trees or debris during floods.

“Everyone needs a Juliet in their lives,” Tearfund’s head of church and supporter engagement, Ruth Tormey, said. “She’s the kind of good neighbour you want in a crisis; but, more importantly, she puts the time and effort in before a crisis hits by taking advantage of Tearfund’s training to help prepare her community to literally weather the storms.”

Tearfund’s disaster management lead for Asia, Sanjeev Bhanja, said that communities such as Juliet’s faced more frequent and more intense hazards. “They risk being pushed back into poverty; so Tearfund’s task is to help them prevent their hard work being washed away.”


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