The purpose-built cyclone shelters have become their homes effectively, though there is nothing homely about them
Although over two months have passed since Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the south-western coastal areas of the country, the residents of Koyra upazila, who evacuated their homes as the storm approached, still find themselves unable to return.
The purpose-built cyclone shelters or other buildings and structures that form part of the area’s public infrastructure and double up as shelters during emergencies, to which the residents of Koya were moved alongside millions of others, have become their homes effectively, though there is nothing homely about them.
It is the ultimate nightmare for any sensible person who heeds the Bangladesh Meteorological Department’s warnings in the face of an approaching cyclone and heads to the shelters, that once the storm passes, they would go back to find their residences destroyed. The plight of the Koyra residents post-Amphan has not been dissimilar.
Imtiaz Uddin Ahmed, general secretary of Koyra Development Coordination Committee, a citizens’ platform, said “Several kilometres of the river protection embankment of the upazila have been washed away by the storm. The situation of the Amphan-hit area has not improved till now, so people who took shelter in different roads and shelter homes have been unable to make their way back even now.”
Executive Engineer of Khulna Water Development Board (Satkhira-2) Md Arifuzzaman said some 40 kilometres of the flood protection embankment was destroyed, across 21 points. The tidal surge accompanying the strong winds of Amphan ended up flooding 80% of the upazila.
It was a disaster waiting to happen, as the structure was weak and vulnerable along several points. When it happened to be in the path of a cyclone, it stood no chance. Residents had been trying to draw the attention of the authorities for months.
In February, UNB reported how residents of five unions in the upazila were warning that the flood control embankment in their area was “on the verge of collapse.” They even provided specifics, voicing particular concern over a 21-kilometre stretch of the embankment between polder numbers 13 to 14/1 and 13 to 14/2, along the Kopotakkho and Shakbaria rivers, as particularly vulnerable. In the event, when Amphan struck, they were proved right in the most cruel manner.
It was no surprise then that some residents, in the aftermath of Amphan decided to strike out on their own and started work to repair the embankment themselves. But they could only go very far.
Many people have taken shelter on the dyke or roads but they have endured unspeakable suffering. Everywhere they look they are cut off by water and they are passing their days like prisoners.
Needless to say, they are also suffering from lack of access to pure drinking water and sanitation, but as long as their own homes remain off limits the situation offers little hope. Add to that the lack of adequate food.
They are now counting their days till they can get back their houses.
Anwarul Islam, who took shelter at Dakkhin Bedkeshi cyclone center, said: “I could not go back to our home after two months of the cyclone Amphan as I, along with my family, are living at Harinkhola Government Primary School, doubling as a cyclone centre. Like my family, some 52 families and 150 people are now living there. At first, there were 300 people but most of them left the place after making makeshift houses on the road.”
Anwarul is from the village of Ghatakhali in Koyra upazila where many parts of the river protection dam along the Kopotakkho river got damaged. “Since then, with the rise and fall of tidal waters, my area is flooded twice daily.”
Shahanur, another resident of the upazila, said: “I just about managed to build a tent on the road (of Water and Power Development Authority). We are suffering from lack of pure drinking water as salinity has intruded everywhere.”
Khokon, another victim, who also took shelter in a dyke, said: “We go through a lot of problems during rains.” Beside him was Jarina, who raised her voice to speak up on the inadequacy of the relief provided by the government.
“We are going through a food crisis. We hardly survive on the relief food, getting them from others at times,” she said.
MM Saiful Islam, a construction worker by profession, who also has taken shelter on the road, said: “I left home two months ago and still I could not return as it is submerged by the river water.”
He also demanded construction of a sustainable and long-lasting dam in the upazila.
SM Shafiqul Islam, chairman of Koyra upazila, said 34 families have taken shelter in Harinkhola, 40 families in Bedkashi Collegiate School, 200 to 250 families on road stretching from at Kashirhatkhola to Hajatkhali area and 10 to 12 families on Koyra sluice gate area.
They will not be able to return home until the embankment is repaired, he said.