Rehabilitating children battered by natural calamities

Dhaka,  Thu,  24 August 2017
Published : 15 Jun 2017, 20:49:36

Rehabilitating children battered by natural calamities

Shihab Sarkar
Unlike the devastating cyclones Sidr and Aila in 2007 and 2009 respectively, the disaster of May 30, called Mora, couldn't wreak havoc on the affected areas. Thanks to the authorities' effective preparation to face the storm, people in the sixteen coastal districts were spared large-scale casualties and damages to properties. But the cyclone of 'great danger signal-10' magnitude did leave the signs of its onslaught along the coast. A total of seven people were killed as the storm struck the vulnerable districts.

According to Disaster Management Ministry officials, around 300,000 people bore the cyclone's brunt. Chittagong district administration puts the number of people affected in the area at 14,250 people. Upon collation of different estimates, Cox's Bazar district emerges the most affected district in terms of property damages. In the district including its outlying areas, 20 per cent dwellings belonging to the Rohingya refugees were destroyed completely, says a post-cyclone survey carried out by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

On the other hand, the Chittagong district administration has put the total of houses destroyed completely at 2,745. It has found 2,596 houses damaged partially in the district. Coming to the extent of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Mora, UNICEF presents a troubling picture. As it has estimated, of those affected, 1.3 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across the vast swathes of the Bay of Bengal coast in southern Bangladesh.

Along with those in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, badly hit by the cyclone, a large number of children in Bangladesh have been exposed to various adversities and hazards left in the wake of the disaster. As in the past super-cyclones, lots of children have this time also been made to undergo temporary homelessness and, finally, destitution. With the administration getting engaged in other 'urgent' preoccupations, these hapless children are destined to be left in the lurch. 

Life in course of time will return to its previous routine, massive relief and rehabilitation will be in place.  But the cyclone-affected children are set to remain trapped in the same old cycle of deprivations and neglect. From community to local administration to government levels, few have ever appeared to be troubled by the ordeals that keep besetting the lives of children. Coming to the individuals --- parents and the near and dear ones, they themselves remain being hounded by scores of problems for an indefinite period. They can hardly manage time and initiatives to bail the hapless children out.

As has been seen in the aftermaths of Sidr (Nov 15, 2007) and Aila (May 25, 2009), most of the child victims of May 30 cyclone are feared to be stalked by a series of adversities. Foremost among them include lack of protection and permanent shelter, adequate nutrition, hygienic living and different health services. And what overshadows all these afflictions is, of course, a great disruption to the children's education.

Owing to the mostly ramshackle and improvised nature of the structures housing rural schools, few of them can withstand the impact of even the normal storms. Super-cyclones have been found to be not sparing even concrete buildings. In such a scenario, schools in general face the first phase of wrath unleashed by cyclones. 

With their schools damaged, large numbers of children are found virtually with no option for pursuing their studies. This state of being thrust into a void may go on for an indefinite period. Although it sounds harsh, it is true education enjoys lower preferences compared to other prerequisites for a child's meaningful survival.

In the Sidr and Aila-battered south-western districts around the coast, children were found battling series of ordeals along with the adults. Lack of pure drinking water, adequate food, habitats and health services affects children equally as it does grown up people. When the people in these cyclone-hit south-western districts were found struggling to piece together their earlier lives 8 to 10 years into the calamities, the plight of the children has not remained out of focus. Life for children in those vast swathes of land witnessed a complete break with their carefree past after the two disasters. In a developing country like Bangladesh, the picture could not have been different. In the aftermath of both the cyclones and some others before them, children were found to have suffered the most.

Cyclone Mora has not seen tragic deaths of children. But a few other storms were witnesses to merciless deaths of children. The memories of the killer cyclone Gorky of 1970 are still fresh with many people. It is estimated that 300,000 to 500,000 people in the southern districts and their offshore islands lost their lives in that deadly cyclone. Many others were reportedly washed away into the sea. Children and women comprised a great number of the total dead. Forty-seven years ago, those were the days of neo-colonial Pakistani rule. The people, including children and women, who were able to survive the killer Gorky, could draw little pity and sympathy of the then central government. Hundreds of children affected by the cyclone had to go through series of ordeals ranging from starvation, homelessness and varied types of traumatic experiences. The number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), then called voluntary organisations, which came up with relief and rehabilitation programmes were handful. Compared to this situation, local and overseas relief and rehabilitation agencies these days spend little time before rushing to the scenes of calamity. Ironically, it is the governments' inertia coupled with widespread mismanagement that makes people disappointed. These post-calamity crises thus lead to fresh rounds of sufferings of people already battered and dislocated. Scenarios of this nature were seen to have been enacted with vengeance in the aftermaths of both Sidr and Aila.

With its low-intensity strike followed by a negligible trail of destruction, Cyclone Mora has spared children of its feared wrath. It should not leave the authorities concerned to feel relieved and not stand by the children in the later phases of sufferings. If they fail to respond to the needs of the distressed scores of NGOs will come forward with material and emotional support. It may not turn out to be a happy experience. Like many other disaster-prone developing countries, Bangladesh, too, could not emerge as one sufficiently prepared to deal with children's post-calamity ordeals. Remaining equipped with the basic rehabilitation tools, including shelter and food and schooling, in advance is a pragmatic step. Children and adolescents constitute one of the most vulnerable sections of communities.  If the authorities in charge take short and long-term succour to children immediately after a disaster strikes, it turns out to be a measure more effective than belated efforts --- no matter how immense they may be.


Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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