Post-Roanu: The deadly calm after the storm

People gather materials for reconstruction in Kutubdia (southern coastal belt of Bangladesh). Apart from having to worry about the safety and wellbeing of their children, the added pressure under which these communities are rebuilding is already dire enough.

Over half of the major cyclones in the Asia-Pacific region over the last century have affected Bangladesh’s coastal districts.

The most recent, Cyclone Roanu, hit the coast of Bangladesh at 11:00 am on 21 May 2016. Winds reached speeds of 102 kilometres per hour and caused massive damage to houses, businesses and agricultural lands. Heavy rainfall inundated the southern coastal regions of the country and caused severe landslides. An estimated 200,000 homes were destroyed.

The cyclone hit during the same week that the national higher secondary certificate (US high school equivalent) examinations were scheduled. Thousands of students watched from cyclone shelters as their homes were flattened, and their school books and stationery floated past.

We concentrated on providing support during the disaster, in partnership with many other organisations, but also in providing support to counteract another, more silent killer.

Children and young people are often forgotten in the aftermath of disasters, and quietly become the most vulnerable group during rebuilding. They often cannot attend school, and are often either ignored or hinder the reconstruction efforts of their parents. Their learning is disrupted, and child labour, child marriages and sexual assault often rise. Flooded areas present wondrous new playgrounds, but these are deadly. One child dies from drowning every half an hour in Bangladesh.

Child-friendly spaces keep children safe and let them continue learning while communities rebuild. They are safe havens that ring for miles around with the sound of singing, laughing and acting. Children learn and play, and are kept safe from the dangers that could affect them for the rest of their lives, as they heal from the trauma they have experienced. Trained volunteers monitor them, giving special attention to their psychological wellbeing. Parents themselves have reported that the availability of child-friendly spaces have given them the peace of mind to immerse themselves in recuperating, knowing their children are somewhere safe and happy.

The cost of accommodating a child in a child-friendly space is less than two cents per day. From what we learned from our recent experiences, the positive impacts they could have on children are priceless.

200,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving countless families sleeping under open skies.
A family rebuilds their home. The homes are usually made of planks, bamboo and tin sheets which are cheap and easy to acquire. However, these materials are also the reason homes are non-resilient to storms and are at constant risk from cyclones.
Higher secondary certificate (US high school equivalent) exam candidates of the affected villages in Kutubdia have taken a huge blow as many lost their books in the storm right before their exams. Recovered text books have been left to dry in the sun.
Children dressed up in costumes perform in a play while their friends look on in Kutubdia. In these child-friendly spaces, children engage in activities such as painting, playing sports and performing among others, with safety and learning kits provided by UNICEF.
Relief usually meets the immediate needs of people but what is also crucial is keeping children safe. With parents free from worry as they go on with the reconstruction plays a strong motivational factor in accelerating the rebuilding process.

Starting our child-friendly spaces in partnership with UNICEF since the severe floods of Gaibandha in 2015, we are now operating 12 more of such spaces in the districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar. Our 36 cyclone shelters spread across Bangladesh provide refuge to people every time a disaster strikes.

Photos: Faisal Azim