Flood waters recede, but challenges remain

Flood waters continue to recede in monsoon-hit Bangladesh, leaving behind immense challenges in terms of crop and infrastructure damage, and the delivery of health services and food aid.

“The overall flood situation is improving,” Masud Siddiqui, director-general of the country’s Disaster Management Bureau, in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, told IRIN. “All the major rivers are receding.”

Over 10 million people were affected, hundreds killed, and hundreds of thousands left homeless, after above average monsoon rains battered the river delta nation and much of the region over the past month.

Many of the rain-fed rivers flowing south from India to the Bay of Bengal burst their banks, destroying over 60,000 homes, 500 schools and damaging the livelihoods of millions. Of the country’s 64 districts, 36 were affected; 15 of them badly.

“At this point, the important thing for us is not the water, but the upcoming reconstruction and rehabilitation of the infrastructure that was destroyed,” Siddiqui said.

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At the same time, the country’s health services continue to be tested, following an increased incidence of water-borne diseases, most notably diarrhoea, as well as other post-flood ailments, including pneumonia, typhoid, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and a host of skin infections. According to the country’s Ministry of Health, over 100,000 cases of diarrhoea have been reported since the end of July nationwide.

On 14 August the country’s International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research registered over 1,000 patients - the highest number in a day since its establishment 47 years ago.

Initial crop damage is estimated to be close to US$100 million if not more, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) anticipates over a million people will likely require food assistance until the end of the year.

At the peak of the floods, over 300,000 people sought refuge in some 600 shelters; but this number has dropped significantly as flood-waters have receded. “The numbers are going down,” Mohsena Fedaust, joint secretary of the country’s Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, in Dhaka confirmed. “As of 25 August, there are 42,005 people still in shelters.”

Government food aid

As part of that assistance, the government is currently providing 10kg of rice per month to some 1.5 million households in 12 badly flood-affected districts.

“We need to help those that were hit hardest - the rural poor,” the government official said, including women, children and the elderly.

Seven of those districts - Jamalpur, Faridpur, Rajbari, Gopalganj, Sherpur, Madaripur and Sariatpur - are in the country’s central Dhaka Division, one of six divisions in the country, while five more - Kurigram, Gaibandha, Rangpur, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat - are in the northern division of Rajshahi bordering India and Bangladesh’s Khulna and Dhaka divisions to the south.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
A young child stands in the stagnant waters of this year's flood in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. Children are at serious risk of a host of waterborne diseases

Additionally, over two dozen flood-affected districts are expected to be included in part of the government’s Vulnerable Group Feeding programme set to start in September. Another programme, called the Vulnerable Group Development programme, under the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, will target even more vulnerable families, including female-headed households, and provide 30kg of rice per household per month.

“The basic concern of the government of Bangladesh at this point is food security,” Siddiqui said. “These are the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable,” he explained.

Regarding the worst affected areas, he said three districts in Dhaka Division - Manikganj, Munshiganj and Rajbari - faced the most difficult situation.

“In three districts downstream from the River Padma (Ganges), water is still flowing at between 11 and 21cm above the danger level at some points,” he explained.

“I’m hoping there is no further moderate to heavy rain in the basin above Bangladesh,” Douglas Broderick, WFP country representative for Bangladesh, told IRIN.

“Obviously we’re not out of the monsoons yet. If we do have a moderate to severe storm up there - a week or two of heavy rains - we could be in big trouble,” he warned.