Saturday, March 14, 2009

Life on the Embankment : Rural Urbanity

After arriving in Chittagong and getting picked up by our translator and driver (which proved to be a little over our budget!) we got taken to meet with our contacts at Caritas. They offered to take us on a cyclone shelter trip to Cox’s Bazar the next day.

And off we went bright and early the next morning. The man from Caritas accompanying us, Mr Mozharul Islam, proved to be very helpful and knowledgeable in the subject. He had been working for Caritas for more than 20 years, and even worked in the Sidr area after the disaster in 2007. He was going around to all the shelters to check on the repair works and we got to visit their field office, where they were involved in a participatory approach in the village to educate people on how to build their houses in a more sustainable and cyclone proof way.

We then went on to visit on of the worst hit areas after the 1991 Gorky cyclone, the union of Mognama. Bangladesh is divided into 6 divisions, which are subdivided into districts, which are subdivided into upazilas, which are subdivided into unions, which are subdivided into wards, which are around 3 km2. The Mognama union has roughly 30,000 inhabitants living on 20km2. Pretty dense for a rural area.

Going through the countryside we noticed that the predominant agrarian activities seemed to be rice paddies, salt collection, shrimp farming, and tobacco plantations. All the economic activity (shops, restaurants) took place along the main road, on the embankment. These embankments are also the most desirable places to live. They are high and dry, so to speak. The areas outside the embankments are much more vulnerable and this is where the landless illegally squat government land.

Mognama is a salt farming community. We got the chance to visit several cyclone shelters cum schools and talk with many of the locals. Salt farming actually turns out to be one of the more sustainable activities, as the farmers can store their salt underground and when a cyclone hits their ‘crop’ is not damaged.

Their main concerns for the future were the lack of killas (raised platforms of 6m height) for storing cattle. Every family has several chickens or goats, and these usually have to be left behind during a cyclone. There are also far from enough cyclone shelters, we were told that there are five, each with capacity of 2500 people, for their entire community of 30,000. They need at least 10 more shelters for everyone to be able to evacuate. They were also in need of more primary schools.

We visited many cyclone shelters and there are several different typologies. The three main types are the orthogonal structures (brick or concrete), raised on columns, the arrow shaped (concrete) also raised above ground, and the aerodynamic drop shaped shelters (concrete) also raised on columns. The average budget for these shelters is 80 lakh Taka. If we’re correct his converts to around 100,000 euros.

We also got a chance to see some of Caritas’ houses, built of concrete columns with a steel framed roof and profiled tin sheeting roof. The infill was simple bamboo mats.

On the way back we also went past Kotubdia island where we talked to some fishermen who had managed to flee the cyclone in 1991 due to the timely warning.

1 comment:

  1. The shelter looks so alien there, in a beautiful sort of way.