Cyclone leaves trail of contaminated water sources

One week after Cyclone Aila struck southern Bangladesh, survivors in some areas are facing acute shortages of drinking water after many water sources were contaminated.

“The dire situation has yet to improve,” Mohammad Badi Akhter, Oxfam’s acting chief of operations in Dhaka, told IRIN, noting the government was calling on NGOs to beef up their operations, particularly for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Despite relief efforts by the government, NGOs, the UN and international agencies, thousands of people on islands had yet to receive any kind of relief assistance. Even on the mainland, scores of people were still trapped in their homes, surrounded by stagnant floodwater.

“I don’t see any possibility of the waters receding before the end of the monsoon,” said a water engineer from the Sharankhola area of Bagerhat District. This translates into the end of September: the consequences of the storm may turn out worse than expected.

“There are seven mouths to feed in my family,” Jahangir Alam of Kolapara sub-district in Patuakhali District said. He had not yet received any aid.

Lack of drinking water was forcing many to go hungry as they were unable to cook the food they had received from relief agencies.

Photo: ReliefWeb
Tropical Cyclone Aila's route through Bangladesh as of 26 May

Embankments washed away

Over 1,400km of flood protection embankments were washed away by Aila, exposing thousands of villages just as the monsoon is beginning, the country’s Disaster Management Bureau reported.

Each day at high tide, water rushes through the damaged embankments and swamps coastal communities, despite the efforts of local people who are trying to repair them.

“More houses are being inundated by the high tide every day... No rebuilding efforts of the demolished embankments are visible. The monsoon is bearing down on us. If the embankments are not repaired, villages like mine will remain under water for the whole of the monsoon,” Mahadev Chandra Sarkar, a school teacher from Gabura Union, Shatkhira District, warned.


The main sources of drinking water in coastal areas are ponds, wells and tube wells, but many have been contaminated.

“I had to walk five miles [8km] to get one pitcher of drinking water. All the sweet water ponds and tube wells were flooded by sea water,” said Motia Banu, a resident of Burirchar Union, Borguna District.

Media reports on 30-31 May indicated an increased incidence of diarrhoea, affecting thousands.

“Diarrhoea is a serious concern,” Oxfam’s Akhter said, adding that in Satkhira District alone 10 people had died of diarrhoea in a single day.

Relief efforts

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund and the government’s Department of Public Health Engineering are working with Action contre la Faim, ActionAid, BRAC, CARE, CARITAS, Catholic Relief Services, NGO Forum, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Save the Children USA, Solidarites, Oxfam GB and Water Aid to improve the WASH situation.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Stagnant pools of water provide fertile ground for a host of water-borne diseases (file photo)

UNICEF is procuring 70,000 bags of oral rehydration salts and pre-positioning 12.5 million water purification tablets, essential drugs and 135.7 tons of high-energy BP-5 biscuits.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has also pre-positioned 500 tons of high-energy biscuits.

“We have mobilised volunteers throughout the affected region. They are providing dry food, water purification tablets and oral rehydration solutions,” Mohamad Abul Quasem, an officer of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), told IRIN.

BDRCS has also deployed six teams for damage assessments and a tracing team, working to locate missing family members.

Organized by the Directorate General of Health Services and the World Health Organization, close to 700 teams of healthcare professionals were now providing medical support to survivors.

More than 3.2 million were affected when Alia swept across large parts of low-lying Bangladesh on 25 May, leaving 167 dead and over 7,000 injured.

Fourteen of the country’s 64 districts were affected, the Disaster Management Bureau reported, prompting some 145,000 people to flee to cyclone shelters, according to the government’s 1 June situation report. According to government estimates immediately after the cyclone, some 600,000 people were estimated to have fled their homes - some to higher ground, some to stay with relatives and some to cyclone shelters.

According to Oxfam, the Ganges-Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin in Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. Bangladesh's coastline is regularly battered by tropical cyclones, and one-third of the country floods annually during the monsoon.