Bangladesh cyclone survivors face uncertain future
Friday, 14 December 2007

Bangladesh cyclone survivors face uncertain future
With its brightly painted mudguards, plastic streamers and embroidered hood, Nasir Howlader's cycle rickshaw was his pride and joy until last month's cyclone left its mangled parts strewn across the rice fields of southern Bangladesh.

The rickshaw -- which Howlader finished paying for only weeks before Cyclone Sidr struck -- was also his livelihood. Without it his future in this impoverished country looks precarious.

"I scoured the fields and found a few parts but I've given up now because it's one month; somebody has probably found the other pieces and sold them to the iron shops," he said, surveying the few pieces he managed to salvage.

"In any case, they are not repairable so I will have to take out another loan and start again," added Howlader, 32, who lives in the badly affected Patuakhali district, 190 kilometres (120 miles) south of the capital Dhaka.

Even at the best of times, making ends meet is a never-ending battle for people like Howlader.

Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries with 40 percent of the 144-million population scraping through life on a dollar a day.

For years, Howlader rented a rickshaw from a garage before taking the plunge and opting for a loan last year. He had hoped it would be the start of some small measure of economic independence for him and his family.

But with all his hard work now wiped out, the father-of-two's main concern is to re-establish a source of income -- however meagre.The storm surge that accompanied the devastating November 15 cyclone also washed away his home on the banks of the Andharmanik river.For the past month the family has lived in a make-shift hut made from salvaged wood and polythene.

 Food has come from government handouts.But with a new baby on the way and no guarantee of how long the aid will last, Howlader says he is desperate to find work."I am totally ruined by Sidr, nothing is left," he said, adding that for a whole year he worked six days a week from 7:00 am to midnight to repay the 6,000-taka (85-dollar) loan on his rickshaw."I took one days' rest a week because I became totally exhausted.
Now all of my labour to build my family's future is destroyed," he added.In nearby Kuakata, one of Bangladesh's remote southern tips, most men earn a living from fishing in the Bay of Bengal.

The tidal surge razed thousands of homes and left the fishermen's boats smashed to pieces.Villagers took refuge in a cyclone shelter but returned to find nothing left.Now they exist in a pitiful state in tiny shacks made from bamboo, twigs and old saris and say they fear they will never recover financially.

Monir Mollah, 35, had repaid two-thirds of a 20,000-taka loan on his share of some nets and a small fishing boat when Sidr struck.The storm, which claimed around 3,300 lives and left millions homeless, was one of the most powerful to hit the disaster-prone country since records began."We are going to have to take another loan, work hard to catch more and more fish and live a very poor life to repay it," he said, surrounded by a crowd of fellow fishermen, all now jobless and facing the same bleak future.

In the meantime, he said, everyone was competing for the same limited-supply of work as rickshaw pullers or labourers."We are all doing this and so we need to fight to hire a rickshaw because there are so many unemployed people here now," he said."I feel hopeless when I see everything around me," he added, waving towards the rows of flimsy shacks within sight of the sea. "I have no house, I have no earnings. I have a big debt and I need to take another loan. I am very anxious.

"Abdus Sattar, 40, also a fisherman, spends his days walking from village to village selling boiled sweets and snacks from two baskets suspended from either end of a bamboo stick."I borrowed a bit of money from a friend to buy these things and am earning 30 to 40 taka a day, " he said."It is not enough. I need to earn more, but I had to do something.

"Meanwhile, the fishermen's wives said they feared for their futures."I am worried about how we will live, worried about how long we will get relief, worried about how my husband will earn because now we do not have a boat, we have nothing," said Nazma Begum, 20, who has a five-year-old son."It is tough to live like this. We are doing it, but we have only one blanket and already at night we are very cold," she said.
"The walls (of our hut) are simply made out of clothes... and winter is coming," she added, her voice trailing off in despair.


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