Instead of sending gifts to hospitals on Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla New-Year, Shahida Khanam Poly sent her gifts for the flood-affected children of Sunamganj haor. “After the devastating flood that destroyed almost 90 per cent standing crops in haor areas, I felt I should send this year’s gift for the children of the flood-affected area,” said Poly, who normally distributes gifts in hospitals and old homes in the capital on special occasions.
“I know some people from haor areas who live in Dhaka and with their cooperation I sent some gifts for the affected people earlier,” she said.
“The condition of the people in the haor region needs to be studied and analysed painstakingly to understand the magnitude of their problem and its plausible cascading effect on the rest of the country,” she humbly said, adding that it was not an issue of point scoring rather time for expressing solidarity with the disaster victims.“People in haor areas generally have only one crop, besides they have fisheries and livestock too. But the recent flash floods washed away their main crop paddy and also affected livestock and fisheries. Under such circumstances how the children of the haor regions will continue their studies in schools, colleges and universities in different parts of the country, particularly in cities and towns,” she asked.
Poly, a housewife and mother of three children, feels more such initiative from private citizens will only add to the government drive to redress the miseries of the disaster victims and vulnerable people. Lauding the generous contribution of her friends and relatives who came forward with assistance for her venture, she said better remedies in such situations may be found through more participation by individuals and by innovative measures.
Mehdi Razi, a final level student of the Institute of Cost and Management Accounting (ICMA), who took the relief goods to Sunamganj, said, “I participated in some of her earlier programmes in the children’s wards of different hospitals in Dhaka”. “The gifts for the flood victims of Sunamganj included children’s wear of about 200 sets and saline,” said Razi, adding that those were given at Hassan Bahar village, located on the bank of Baon Beel, merely 15 minutes off Sunamganj town by a bike. “A total of about 150 families live at the village,” he said, adding that almost all the families lost their standing crops due to the floods. “Fishes started dying and the standing paddy of their fields started rotting within two weeks after the flash floods,” Razi said quoting the villagers of Hassan Bahar. Every year some portions of their standing crop is damaged by the onrush of flash floods, but it never spread bad smell nor killed livestock, cattle or the fishes in the past the way it did this time, they told Razi.
A group of volunteers comprising students and young professionals of the town also participated in the relief distribution programme, he said. As they were moving around the village for relief distribution they found some residents were sun-drying their paddy in certain open spaces at the village, the ICMA student said. “Losing its original golden yellow colour, the paddy being dried looked blackish.” “This paddy was collected from under water when it started subsiding a little,” the villagers informed him pointing out that those were being dried for their own domestic consumption. The residents expressed their ignorance when asked if they were aware that its consumption was harmful. When asked what they did with the rotten fish that floated on water for a few days, many felt nervous but one woman acknowledged that they consumed the smaller ones.
“Neither the villagers nor the administration took any initiative to remove the rotten fish from water and dump them elsewhere,” he said. Asked if anyone was drying those fish, they said they were not aware of it.
Many people were suffering from skin diseases and various types of stomach problems after the floods had hit the area, the villagers complained to Razi.
Almost all the affected people of the area received VGF cards issued by the government for food assistance, the villagers informed him. “But in the absence of adequate scope for work at the village, the wages of a day labourer has fallen and many were fishing in the haor although the catches were very few,” they pointed out to him. However Poly stressed on creating mass awareness about health and hygiene so that haor people do not eat dead fishes or consume rotten dark-coloured paddy after drying.
(The writer is a Senior Sub-Editor at daily sun. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)