Zahir Ali. Credit: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Zahir Ali outside his saved home which has been temporarily rebuilt at the flood shelter

Bangladesh: Community prepare to tackle floods

Flood shelter committee members outside of their newly built shelter

We arrive at the local flood shelter – used as a school and community space when there are no floods –and its temporary nature is a stark reminder that life in this area can change very suddenly. While we’re there the talk is of growing vegetables, going to school, getting to market – but when the monsoon rains come, things are very different.

When someone says “shelter” you might think of a big gym-sized hall of some kind, but this one – 7 years old and constructed with support from SKS – is in fact a massive area of raised land. It has a row of corrugated buildings (with solar panels on their roofs), which during the flood act as a school, health centre and toilet block, as well as a large space to house up to 55 families and their livestock during the floods.

Committee members meet to discuss the use of the flood shelters

When you consider that the flood waters can stay for well over a month, the importance of this shelter – to save lives and livestock, to preserve people’s livelihoods, to give people a semblance of a normal life – cannot be overestimated.

“The first flood in 2007 came and didn’t stay for too long, but the most recent flood stayed for 45 days,” says Abu Bakar Sidique, the treasurer of the flood shelter committee. “Usually, it only stays for 15 to 20 days. The second flood totally destroyed the rice crop – no household collected a single grain – so many have had to rely on food aid.”

Treasurer of the flood shelter committee, Abu Bakar Sidique

“Before the last flood, we received the warning from the radio and called an emergency meeting. We then passed the news around the local villages using loud-speaker. We register households and possessions when people arrive and hand out plastic sheets to make temporary homes in one area, with a separate area for cattle and poultry.” Volunteers from local villages man the rescue boats to collect people and livestock stranded by the flood waters.

When we leave Abu, he gives us a sense of the bigger picture here, and the unspoken phrase – climate change – which makes the work in the river basin more vital now than ever before: “The seasons have definitely changed. When we were younger we never saw such devastating floods. In the past, the temperature used to be more predictable, but now the seasons are overlapped. The flood stayed so long last time we missed the season for planting.”