Photo Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society
By Melissa Winkler and Raqibul Alam, IFRC
Every year, monsoon rains cause the Jamuna River to overflow, flooding villages in Sirajganj, Bangladesh and damaging or destroying homes and livelihoods across the district.
This year, seasonal flooding was severe, and at its peak in June, affected 220,000 people in Sirajganj. But many residents say the impact was less than in the past, because they were better informed about how to protect themselves. That’s because Sirajgang is one of a number of districts selected to receive disaster risk reduction assistance from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
The project, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency, began in 2015. It aims to give disaster-prone communities information and tools to evaluate risks and vulnerabilities and develop warning systems and contingency action plans.
“Our focus is to provide communities with the right knowledge to prepare for and respond to disasters and to encourage community members to play an active role in decisions that will impact their lives, before, during and after disasters,” says Belal Hossain, the Director of Disaster Risk Management with the Red Crescent.
Diarpachil, a community in Sirajgang, put this knowledge to the test this year, activating its newly-formed Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC) and emergency plan. This included disseminating weather and flood forecasts, informing people when flood waters were reaching dangerous levels and alerting villagers to protect their belongings.
“With guidance and support from the Bangladesh Red Crescent, we were well prepared to face the recent floods,” says Sohanur Rahman, the community’s Disaster Management Committee leader. “We had regular community discussions, monitored the water levels and started helping community members when the water started to rise. We were able to relocate 10 at-risk families to higher ground at the right time, and because of that, they are safe.”
Jahanara, a resident in the Diarpachil community said she followed the guidance that she received from community volunteers about how to prepare for the floods.
“My husband and I packed up our important documents and valuables ahead of time, so they were protected from the floods,” said Jahanara. “We are prepared to move out if we have to and we know where to go if the situation gets worse.”
The Community Disaster Management Committee in Diarpachil also comes to the rescue of people who are less prepared, and maintains an emergency fund to help especially vulnerable people like Ayesha Begum, a 70-year-old woman, who lives alone in the community.
Ayesha lost her house to the recent flooding and was rescued by the community volunteers, who helped her salvage some of her valuables. Through the fund, Ayesha could purchase food and other supplies.
The emergency fund was a concept introduced by the Red Crescent. The funds are raised through community contributions during periods when there are no disasters and the money is kept in reserve for local small-scale emergency relief operations.