Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reeling in the nets

"Yesterday I got a strange call from a local NGO, who built boats for us after the 2007 Sidr cyclone and now needed a favour in return. Apparently, three white skinned students wanted to take a boat ride with us to see how we pull the nets in offshore. We always set off at two o'clock, but they were still not there by then. I called the NGO person by 2:30, but he didn't pick up the phone, so we set off without them."

"By the time we got back, the tallest of them was drinking tea and talking lunghi with the fishermen in the local cha shop. A shorter foreigner arrived on motorcycle with the NGO man. A tall girl with a T-shirt and Bangladesh cricket cap arrived on the motorcycle shortly after. They were all set to go into the boat, even though we had already pulled in our nets. For me, as a poor fisherman, it is slightly pricy to do boat tours, but guests are holy in our country."

"While we were showing how other boats catch the fish, the three foreign students kept insisting on 'helping' with the fishing. One of them got out to another boat to help, but quite frankly he was only lagging their work. Just to please them, we told them to catch one of the buoys of another boat, and reel in the net. We had a good laugh at their attempts, but they clearly had a good time. In the end, we only caught five pufferfish and two tiger prawns, but they didn't know this was a net we had reeled in just an hour ago already."

"Back at the shore, they all looked happy and started pushing the boat ashore with all their strength. Such naive people, but very nice company. One of them gave me a box of matches, saying it was a special gift to me. He asked me to open it. It held at least 250 taka inside. That was very kind of him, but the thing with the match box must be a strange form of European humour. Back at the tea shop, I copied the trick when paying the cha wallah. I must remember that joke."

To conclude: we had a fantastic time on the Bay of Bengal. View to the Sundarbans, great sunny weather, but not too hot. Even though we had a lot of fun, we will leave the fishing to the Bengalis from now on. We were just bad luck to the fishermen. But we did have a few delicious fish curries that night at our local fish fryer "Dulal"!


Friday, April 24, 2009

Concerning cladding

This was to be Laura's happy birthday: we were going to help the local carpenter with the construction of Red Cross shelters. These shelters have a timber frame, with bracing and concrete foundation columns, which makes it sturdy but expensive. The cladding is made of tin sheeting. People love tin sheeting in Bangladesh, even though the climate inside becomes rather uncomfortable during the hot season (9 months of the year). The whole thing is put together by a group of carpenters who were trained by the Red Cross. We got to witness their excellent craftsmanship. This made us rather self-conscious about our own practical skills. Practice makes perfect...

We have visited different types of NGO shelter designs during our field trips. They all had different sizes, foundations, structures, claddings, bracing, details, materials, costs, construction processes. During our stay in Kuakata we are trying to research the small scale developments after the Sidr cyclone of 2007. Fortunately, for us that is, the Red Cross is still constructing their final shelters. This also means that some are still awaiting the possibility to move to their new designer home. Others were less lucky and were not put on the list of beneficiaries. Due to "fuzzy bureaucracy" at the government, people often had to pay a large amount of money to be on this list. Not to mention the great advantage it has to be a relative of the local chairman.

Right after the cyclone, many people lived along the embankment in temporary shelters. Many of these still live in these improvised homes, which have slowly evolved into a rural slum area that has a permanent character. Some have left to their NGO house, some are waiting to move, still others will be staying. Some families gave their new NGO house to their son, leaving them with their old shack. It is clear that the NGOs had to act quick, in order to give all the people a permanent shelter as soon as possible. The Red Cross got permission to build these shelters on appointed plots of government owned land.

Often, the shelters are aligned in lines along roads. There has been little or no planning on the scale of urbanism. More attention was given to the structural aspects, to make sure these houses would hold against heavy storms and small cyclones. The inhabitants of these houses have been trying to adjust them to their personal and cultural liking: the major addition being a veranda on the front and back side. Some have verandas on all sides, which makes the house look more like the wooden traditional houses (with tin sheeting as cladding and roof) that we see in Bangladesh. We are very interested to further analyze the possibility for the beneficiaries to transform their NGO core house into the traditional house that is embedded in their culture. This involves looking into the living pattern: where do people cook? Where is the latrine positioned? How are the houses situated in traditional settlements? How does the house relate to the pond?

So... there we were, getting our hands dirty. It was quite cloudy, so it did not get to be 43 degrees like it does here these days. Laura was preparing the galvanized metal plates for the wooden connections, Magnus was busy chipping the wooden window frames, while Diederik was nailing the connections of the beams with these plates. See the pictures for some details of the building. It was very interesting to see how the construction of such a shelter looks like in practice. The whole process was controlled by the Red Cross, who's engineers did some quality checks while we were there as well. 

We finished the day with another dangerous motorcycle ride, and hope none of the shelters will falter because of our clumsy skills!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

101 Bangla traffic for dummies

Bangladesh is the country of hierarchies, and this is no different in the traffic situation. In the cacophony of tooting, no one will hear your engine coming, so you must toot too, and preferably louder than the rest. A beautiful example of this was a very clever bicycle rickshaw wallah who had three bells in a serial connection. He only needed one ringing motion of his finger to trigger an immense amount of annoying noise. Other (lazier) wallahs chose to opt for complete electronic bells, with automatic ringers, on their three-wheelers for the extra oomph.

In fact, according to our own SPSS analysis, there is a 96.736 % correlation between tooting capacity (measured in deciBel) and traffic obedience (measured in time it takes for obstacles to remove themselves from your path) within the city of Chtitagong. There is, however, some variance in the data, which can be accounted for the policemen with large sticks (cm). These men position themselves amidst the congested traffic crossroads (red. not great for life expectancy) where they wave around their wooden objects that appear to have much more ruling power than the now redundant traffic lights. Variance within the variance is still being investigated but we predict that it may be accounted for by personal relationship to the man waving the stick, possibly measured in the amount of cups of tea drunk together.

To pave the way through the banani*) of bangla traffic, we have written down some insider tips for beginners. Please be intimidated by the current noise pollution coming out of your screen, it is the healthy fear one gets while taking a dodgy bus. We have yet to find a toot-free spot in Bangladesh.

*) pronounced boh-nah-nee means thick forest

- to buy tickets, one has to go straight to the counter and pay with cash (officially paying with visa is a possibility, however in reality, power cuts prevent any such transaction)
- please get in contact with your life insurance to check whether flying with Biman in conflict with your policy
- inflight, you must make yourself at home: calling is no problem during take off and landing (if you get that far), smoking is allowed only in the toilet, and waiting for air hostesses is a waste of time when you can help yourself to entertainment at the kitchen

- don’t stand in front of the tooting device… EVER!
- the rocket’s obedience (on the water) is extremely high, little boats don’t wanna get in the way of this bad boy
- two person cabins can fit at least your family and extended family and maybe an extra grandma or two (make sure to pay deck price for all of these)
- don’t be tempted to order the full English lunch (this will be by far exceed the price of your entire journey, and that of your extended family)

- punctuality is not the train’s forte, be sure two show up at least two hours after expected departure to avoid being dumped at a landfill by the wrong train
- bring ear plugs as the toot replacement (loud bangla music that skips tracks as it is played from a pirate CD) will knock your socks off
- don’t be tempted to order mojo cola, it is a major mojo killer

- two seats per person is not a luxury, neufert standards have no place here
- there is a hierarchy (of course) of seating (the back is to be avoided at all costs unless rollercoasters are your cup of cha) in order from pretty uncomfortable to ridiculously uncomfortable: driver (private fan and fancy leather seat), two seats, one seat, front public bench next to driver, sitting on someone’s lap, having someone else sit on your lap, standing, hanging on to the bus, sitting on top of bus (now illegal in Bangladesh unless you work for the bus company)
- when you get out at the bus station don’t walk to close to the bus due to possible projectile vomiting
- don’t open your window if the person in front of you just projectile vomited at the bus station, they may do it again

- never pay more than half of the suggested price minus 5 TK (for a true local)
- if you need an extra seat you can always snuggle up next to the driver
- to get a CNG make loud caveman noises and gesture in an impatient and rude manner, perhaps accompanied by the words, “come, come”
- don’t expect the driver to know the address of your destination, get out at the largest intersection of that neighborhood and find a bicycle rickshaw

- most comfortable mode of transport in all terrain
- female riders are expected to use the amazone seat

- try not to feel to guilty about the 60 year father of 10 who is sweating away in front of you to get you to the destination you could have probably walked
- an accepted gesture is to get out at steep inclines to lessen the load
- don’t ask for the price, just pay 20 TK
- if you want to culture shock, offer to ride the rickshaw yourself with him on it

- don’t be fooled by the pile of wood on that cart, you can easily jump on with at least four or five persons
- these bicycle carts are extremely suitable for transporting sowing machines

- if you want to test your obedience level, stick out your hand, close your eyes, and just walk, inshallah!
- If you choose life, never cross without a buffer of three Bengalis in front of you
- forget sidewalks, you’re a part of the traffic flow now whether you like it or not
- because honking is not part of our natural vocabulary, bang on the hood of a car or CNG for extra recognition


Friday, April 17, 2009

CYCLONE ALERT 8: Bijli to strike Kuakata?

We were so happy to finally arrive at boisterous Kuakata (our final case study for the next two weeks) yesterday, crawling with sweat out of the bus that took us here from Barisal. There must have been at least a hundred other people in the bus sitting on each others laps during this horrible five hour trip. But apart from us and all these Bengali, we were not the only ones heading to this peaceful beach town...

...cyclone Bijli also had plans to visit this beautiful seaside town. Coming from the Bay of Bengal, he is gaining strength and is still deciding whether or not to head for the world's longest seabeach (Cox's Bazaar) or the beach from which you can enjoy both sunset and sunrise (Kuakata). We have made our choice. That is: the third floor of Banani Palace, together with a fridge full of "entertainment".

While Bijli was practicing his first rains on us, we set out to explore the island on motorcycle with Abdullah from Friendship (NGO). We visited some projects of various NGOs, all family homes along the coastline that were built after cyclone Sidr in 2007. Some NGOs decided to build strong but small shelters, some went for bigger weaker ones. Some families had rebuilt their homes in a traditional fashion on their own. It is intriguing to see the differences, and how the locals always prefer one over the other. The climate in the traditional houses is by far superior to the smaller tin-sheds built by the NGOs. This is true during hot summer months. When a cyclone hits, however, one would still prefer the less windy but strongly constructed tin shed.

Those that did get a shelter are lucky. Then again, there poverty is not cured by better housing. When we visited one of the overly hospitable families, we noticed someone sleeping inside the not yet finished shelter by the Red Crescent. They explained to us that he had a chronic fever, which somehow couldn't be cured by the prescribed four-pack of paracetamol. A visit to the doctor, including some medicines, would cost 100 TK. This is roughly one euro, and about a daily income for many of the day laborers. And they are only able to get work about half the time. Twenty-five percent of the inhabitants of the coastal regions of Bangladesh has to make a living this way. While we are now on safe grounds, they may not feel so lucky anymore during the cyclone that may hit in a few hours.

Even others, however, have a house on the wrong side of the embankment (dyke). The cyclone may well come with a three meter storm surge, which could easily wash away some of the self made shelters. These are the people who, after the Sidr cyclone in 2007, sold their land to project developers out of poverty and desperation. The developers, as well as the government, were very eager to buy this land at a cheap rate to turn Kuakata into the next big tourist attraction. Right now, however, the only thing attracting attention on the beach was us...

...while we were photographing the wonderful sunset scenery. We were urged to move back to the hotel though: the cyclone was gaining strength. Volunteers from the Red Crescent and other NGOs were informing the people of Bijli's forecasts. In Bangla that is. Which left us quite clueless for a long while. To be on the safe side, we bought enough food to host a modest cyclone party (no alcohol...boohoo). Amidst ordering our seventh bottle of Mum mineral water, a journalist approached. He was eager to interview the obviously non-locals to ask them about their feelings. So, tonight our smiling faces will be broadcasted on Channel 1. Our meteorological insights will be the talk of the country until Bijli hits.

Right now we're enjoying our first quiet day in Bangladesh. It's kind of eerie.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Barisal banter: Bakerganj, Babuganj, Bagerhat, Barisal

Thanks to the NGOs PGUK, INDAB, Friendship and Caritas (some of the perks of traveling on Henk’s tail!) we were able to make several field visits around Barisal division to Sidr response areas for the worst hit communities. We wanted to know the who, why, what, how and when of the houses that were donated by the NGOs. Who was targeted, why they were considered vulnerable, what they were given, and how and when it was given to them.

With Mr. Prodip from PGUK we visited several of the most vulnerable demographic groups, especially widows, former beggars, and disabled communities. PGUK uses a ‘savings group’ approach, in which groups of (usually) women are formed with similar economic situations. They save money together and provide insurance to each other’s savings. Most of the women make less than a euro per day, and it is estimated they are unemployed half the time. Many work in slightly richer households for 3 kg of rice per day. It was interesting to see the different investments that were made with the loans. Some women invested in tools for a sustainable livelihood in weaving or poultry. Others used the money to pay off the debts of their children. Sadly, the loans were not waived after cyclone Sidr (month payment postoned).

The fact that these saving groups were in existence before the cyclone meant that PGUK was very quick to establish a list of beneficiaries. The hardcore poor were the ones who had the most poorly constructed houses that were the first to blow away with the winds of Sidr. PGUK provided material for rebuilding to about 1 out of every 10 of their savings beneficiaries. The women were in charge of transporting building materials from PGUK to their building sites. PGUK provided the ‘design’ (not specifically engineered to withstand great wind or water forces) and were in charge of hiring a carpenter (variable quality) for constructing the house.

With Mr. Kabir from INDAB we also visited vulnerable demographic groups, more specifically ‘mixed groups’ (lower caste Hindus and Muslims), ‘boatpeople’ (gypsy communities who follow the fish and are completely outcast from land society), and char people (those dwelling on the eroding riverbanks) which were all greatly affected by cyclone Sidr. INDAB worked on a community (rather than group) based system in order to stimulate cooperation and joint ventures to break vicious cycles on individual scales.

The fact that the vulnerable are documented in this way speeds up the post disaster vulnerability assessment. Working with spatially connected communities and letting them decide amongst themselves who is most vulnerable means the assessment comes from bottom up and it was heartwarming to witness the generosity and group spirit shown in these decisions. After Sidr INDAB provided the communities with money and left them to decide on which materials they would spend it. Especially noticeable in the villages was the effect of one good carpenter on the entire community; this influenced all the house constructions. However, traditional bracing methods are not compliant with storm resistance. Carpenters lacked training in ways to cheaply build sustainable housing with traditional building methods.

With Mr. Harun from Friendship we visited several of the worst affected areas where most people lost everything, and outside NGOs had to provide new housing to these communities. There were two types of turnkey housing that were provided by Friendship. The first type was constructed on a mud platform with concrete columns and wooden roof frame with tin sheet infill. This core house seemed relatively flexible as it allowed users to transform it to traditional typology. The second type was Ferro cement brick housing in the model village on Madher Char (where Friendship reinforced the embankment and built a port). Though the houses were designed to be sturdy, opportunistic contractors used poor quality cement causing structural problems. Due to inexperience, people were afraid to alter the structure.

With Mr. Francis from Caritas we visited several communities with which they had had relations before the cyclone. Caritas used the existing committees in the unions to designate their (often related) beneficiaries. The shelters were made of concrete columns on an adobe base with a wooden structural frame and bamboo sheeting infill. Carpenters especially trained by Caritas built them. The extended verandas made the houses flexible enough to transform into the traditional three room dwellings.

With a female translator, we also managed to visit a traditional house and question the women (the main users of the house as outside employment in the rural areas for women is near impossible) about the spatial uses of the house. The walls were also made of mud and the roof structure was made of a bamboo frame with some tin sheeting and the rest plastic and banana leaves. The only furniture inside were the beds. There was a non-monsoon and a monsoon kitchen on a raised platform.

We celebrated Bangla New Year 1416 at the fair with Henk!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chittagong: space syntax

During our stay in Chittagong, we mapped the (slightly oversized) city in the space syntax software. It took us some time to make sure there were no bugs in the connections, and to do the right analyses following the courses of Akkie. Currently we are looking at ways to incorporate the different outcomes with other maps, to make some conclusions regarding the relation between connectivity and other (emergency) variables. For instance, we are trying to find out the exact locations of cyclone shelters to link them with the connectivity. You can see both the local and global integrations below. Click on the "Read more" link for some topics of interest.

The following information is done verbally. We will also make some graphs and diagrams to show what we mean later.

City center: we can see some subtle differences between the local and global integrations. One of these is the city center that is visible as a white cloud just northwest of the middle (right image). This correlates with the current situation in Chittagong. The main livelihood is focused around the CDA Avenue, the long street from northeast to the south (dock) that is visible on the left image (local integration).

Linear livelihoods: it is interesting to see the linear patterns in the local integration. One might expect little clouds that function as local centers of livelihood. In the image, however, one can clearly see the linear forms. Please zoom in on the left image to see how the spaces between these linear centers are filled with a maze of smaller streets. The connectivity is quickly reduced. This follows our experience in the city (and other cities in Bangladesh): most activity spreads out in a linear way. The smaller streets often feel as a maze. Most motorcycle rickshaw drivers will not know all these streets either, they will just know the name of the main streets and the region names.

Bridge: looking at the left image with the local integration, one can see a circular roadway going through the city. This is the main CDA Avenue and its extensions: towards the southwest it goes to the port area (also visible as white cloud in the global integration), while it leads to the main bridge towards the southeast. Since we have not added the areas on the other side of the river (not part of Chittagong city), this road becomes less visible towards this bridge on the global integration image. It is, however, very clearly visible on the local integration. And we have indeed experienced how lively this street is. 

Airport area gap: on the southwest peninsula there is an airport. Around this area there used to be a great slum. During the 1991 cyclone, 3000 people died in this area. There has been little informal redevelopment since. It is interesting to see that this area is not very well connected on the local or global level, even though the city is thinking of making a big ring road around the river and see banks along a raised embankment. This road seems odd. It might increase the connectivity of the peninsula, but these regions are very prone to flooding and cyclones. As a counter reaction, the city corporation is planting mangrove forests to protect the embankment and people living behind it.

Development: the city has grown mostly towards the north, around the hilly areas. It is interesting to see how the old port area (middle, south) is both connected locally as globally. It is the old heart of the city. The livelihoods have slowly moved towards the north (the current white cloud center). We can also see new projects towards the north, that appear to be well connected. Again, a linear livelihood is visible.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chittagong: post-presentation

After our first weeks in Dhaka and Chittagong, we decided to make a short presentation that shows what we've been doing. This includes our meetings, field researches and theoretical ideas. We have included three powerpoint slides to this post: the the first is an activity diagram, the second is a braingraph of interrelated ideas, and the last includes sections through the landscape. We aim to work on this section throughout our trip, so that we can show all the interrelated elements of the braingraph in the section. This will force us to have a spatial focus for our research. Please click the "Read More..." button to see our presentations.