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Dhaka Tribune

Disaster-resilient houses remain vulnerable

Update : 20 May 2014, 08:23 PM

The residents of the cyclone-prone Sutarkhali village facing the Bay of Bengal were jubilant over the scheduled visit of a top UN official to the area.

But Shahidul Islam, a resident of the same village and a chauffeur by profession, said the visit was “useless.”

On May 19, the villagers, who face constant risks of being washed away by the likes of cyclone Aila that flattened the area in 2009, were eager to welcome UN Assistant Secretary-General Haoliang Xu. He was supposed to reach the remote area by a sea plane.

Xu’s trip to Sutarkhali, separated by the Poshur-Shibsha river system from mainland Khulna, was aimed at witnessing the disaster-resilient habitats constructed with funds from the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The CDMP says the houses with raised height will protect the poor people from the onslaught of future cyclones – climate change-triggered extreme weather events that may lash the coastal village.

Xu sat in front of the villagers, including the 58 beneficiaries who got the disaster-resilient houses. They thanked the CDMP for giving them concrete houses, as the NGO suggested them to praise the initiative.

“They [CDMP] have given us concrete houses for safety, but these will not survive as the embankment [encircling the village] is completely vulnerable. Surely, saline waters [from Shibsha river]would engulf the whole village,” Shahidul told the Dhaka Tribune, standing 50 metres off the cyclone shelter where Xu and top ranked government officials were talking to the local people.

He said, in the 1960s, the village under Dakope upazila became livable because of the construction of acircular embankment that protected the villagers from intrusion of saline water from the sea through rivers.

“We have to stop the intrusion of saline water first; only then can you construct houses. I am sure that you, the journalists, will come again next year to report on the damages inflicted on the houses by cyclones,” said Khokon Mallik, a fish trader.

Another villager Krishnapada, 60, told the Dhaka Tribune that the village was located inside polder number 32.

“This embankment has 18 vulnerable points which may lead to the washing away of the village in case a cyclone, warranting danger signal seven, hits the area. We have to rehabilitate the embankment raising its height immediately,” he said.

Otin Dewan, a CDMP specialist involved with the construction of the houses, told the Dhaka Tribune that his organisation did not have the authority to repair the embankment.

“CDMP has shown that these vulnerable people [who lived in thatched houses with Golpata roof] could be protected from cyclones,” he said, suggesting that the government must come forward in repairing the embankment.

Khulna water development officials said they had been trying to mobilise funds for repairing the 32km embankment on the Shibsha River.

The beneficiaries, all severely affected by the 2009 cyclone, said they were grateful that they had got the concrete houses with sanitary latrines, tanks harvesting rainwater and a pond for meeting their everyday need for sweet water – all free of cost.

The soil dug from the pond was used for raising the height of the houses, each costing Tk1.8 lakh.

The government’s House Building Research Institute has provided the design for nearly 10-feet by 8-feet structures, fitted with slabs of cement-like roof and solar panel on six decimal state-owned land.

“At least we have a house to live now. Earlier, we used to live on a bamboo platform in Bainpara, already devoured by the Shibsha river,” Nargis Begum, a woman in her 40s, told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Only Allah knows what would happen if the embankment is damaged,” she said.

Septuagenarian Raima is eager to get a house too.

“Baba, can you manage a house like this for me? I have been going through a lot of sufferings,” she told this reporter when he asked her about the CDMP initiative.

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