The best help is independence
Earthquakes, cyclones, and tsunamis again and again destroy people’s lives in South-East Asia. Emergency relief and rebuilding are not the only way to help them, though. In the long run, something else is important.
Bangladesh has been particularly badly affected because of changes in the weather and the climate, which regularly leads to widespread flooding, causing hardship and heartache for millions of people. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is situated in South-East Asia and shares borders with India in the north, west, and east, and Myanmar in the south-east, and borders on the Bay of Bengal in the south. .
About 161 million people live in the country, whose major source of income is in the industrial and services sector and in agriculture. In recent years in particular, there has been a shift away from a dependence on the export of agricultural products to new technologies and services. However, agriculture still provides the livelihood for more than half of the population. Besides rice, Bangladesh also grows jute, cotton, sugarcane, wheat, tobacco, pulses, and tea and exports them worldwide.
The country is criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers, constituting a total waterway length of 24,000 kilometres. This abundance of water makes Bangladesh one of the most fertile countries in the world. What on the one hand is a boon can also have a devastating effect, as the recurring floods show. Despite the noticeable economic improvements over the last years, there is still great poverty in large parts of the country: about 36 per cent of the population have to get by on less than one US dollar a day. One of the causes are the floods. They destroy crops and cause livestock to drown or die of diseases.
During the monsoon there was heavy flooding in July 2019 in the region of Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port south of Chittagong on the Bay of Bengal. Many of the villages were almost completely destroyed. About 200,000 people live in cramped and inhumane conditions, many of them having been driven from their homes because of ethnic conflicts. Their dwellings consist mostly of small huts built from wooden planks and corrugated iron sheets, which cannot withstand the water masses. Even the few toilet facilities and wells in the villages were destroyed. The risk for a cholera and typhoid outbreak was high because of the dramatic hygiene situation.
Emergency relief measures were made possible by the German aid organisation NAK-karitativ in co-operation with its long-time partner Help, who ensured that food, blankets, and hygiene kits could be distributed. The two charities partnered with a local non-profit organisation, BASTOP, who saw to the necessary organisation on the ground. After the waters had receded, the clean-up in the villages could begin.
NAK-karitativ contributed to the reconstruction efforts. Clean water stations and public toilets were repaired. Vulnerable families whose homes had been washed away by the floods were identified and were given building materials and help from experts so that they could rebuild their homes largely on their own.
These efforts were accompanied by courses to create an awareness among the people for better hygiene standards. Another core aspect was teaching the people how to respond properly in the event of a disaster. They were made aware of the installed early warning systems and were taught what to watch for so that they would recognise early signs of an impending flood.
These are important proactive steps to better cope with future disasters. Development co-operation is an important aspect here and is being supported by the governments. One of the reasons that the situation in poor countries is hardly noticed is a lack of public interest in the rich countries.
Tatjana Augustin, the new managing director of NAK-karitativ explains: “Bangladesh is only one example. There are many other countries that are regularly affected by natural disasters. Very few disasters find their way into the media so that people in other countries are hardly aware of them. What’s more, people’s interest in disasters quickly wanes whereas the work in the affected regions often goes on for years. For this reason, we cannot help in every crisis or disaster and have to use the resources at our disposal strategically. Our focus is also on preventive measures with the aim of making people less vulnerable to disasters. This takes time, but is more effective in the long run as we make people independent of outside help.”