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.

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