Cyclone Aila Victims are in Grip of World Bank?

CLEAN News, 13 October 2010
Hasan Mehedi, Khulna

We are in doubt.
We anxious that the Aila damaged embankments may not be reconstructed in this year.
We are in fear that we might be in saline water for a more year.

It can be easily assumed that the government is waiting for a loan from World Bank to reconstruct the coastal embankments, as the newspapers said. Several newspapers have published alarming news of World Bank’s involvement in reconstruction of Aila-damaged embankments. According to the news in Daily Star and Daily Newage, World Bank (WB) has agreed to provide a credit of 75 million USD (BDT 5.25 billion) for several programmes including embankments reconstruction, cyclone shelter repairing, agriculture-fisheries-livestock rehabilitation and reducing disaster risks.
Out of 5.25 billion 1.05 billion Taka (USD 15 million) will be spent for reconstruction of 80 kilometres Aila-damaged embankments. In the project paper of Emergency Cyclone Recovery and Reconstruction Project (ECRRP), the WB scheduled disbursement of 1st installment (BDT 350 million) of the credit in 2011. Now the 300 thousand affected people have a question, “is it going to be delayed?”

After a year-long campaign, the Prime Minister (PM) of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, visited the Aila affected areas of southwest coastal region of Bangladesh on last 23rd June 2010. More than 300 thousand inundated cyclone Aila victims had been waiting for one year and three months for that moment with only one demand: Immediately Reconstruction of Aila-damaged Embankments of Khulna and Satkhira district. The civil society and political groups’ expectation to the PM touched the peak. In response of the people’s demand honourable PM declared that Aila-damaged embankments would be reconstructed within dry season of 2010 (Nov-Dec-Jan).

Then the inundated people started counting time of execution. They are still waiting for going back ancestral homes. To this end, tender notice of reconstruction was to issue from Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) within July-August 2010. But no progress has been seen till this mid-October. Now, we doubt like last year, that the breached embankments may not be reconstructed in this year! The Government should make it clear to the affected people.

The cyclone Aila hit the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh on 25th May 2009. More than 190 people died and 700 kilometre coastal embankments breached by the storm and surges following cyclone Aila. 500 thousand people of 11 Unions under Khulna and Satkhira district severely affected by the cyclone and more than 300 thousand became homeless. Above 150 thousand people took shelter on the embankments and other 100 thousand became forced migrants and shifted to the big cities and neighboring countries.

Though the people were in serious lack of water and food after cyclone Aila, they cried for reconstruction of damaged embankments before all other supports. Primarily, the government and NGOs started repairing under Food for Work and Taka for Work scheme but after a certain period they left it as the authorities decided that the breached embankments could not be repaired in rainy season and committed to repair them within dry season of 2009. Aila victims were agreed to wait for winter even in that inhumane situation.

But even after the winter season, when monsoon started in coastal zone, BWDB did not take any step to repair the embankments. In January 2010, Aila Durgoto Sanghati Mancho (Aila-Victims Solidarity Platform) and Upokulio Beribandh Nirman Gonoshangram Committee (Peoples Committee to Reconstruct Coastal Embankments) has been formed with participation of political leaders, people’s forums, NGOs, civil society leaders and professional groups. Dhaka-based Nagorik Sanghati joined them in March 2010. Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL) and Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Project started supporting these peoples movement. The groups organized several programs including press conference, sit-in program, farmers’ procession, blockade of BWDB Office and submission of memorandum to the Prime Minister.

Seeing the tears of the Aila victims, Minister for Water Resources and Minister for Food and Disaster Management and Parliamentary standing committees visited the affected areas and ordered BWDB to complete reconstruction before monsoon. But all of these orders washed away with the stream of rivers. At last, after a one-month long program, honorable PM ordered BWDB to complete all reconstruction before rainy season. This order also ignored and situation of Aila victims remains unchanged. In the mean time hundred cores of money spent without any result and thousands of people still under the saline water. The country is losing more than 800 tonnes of crops per season!

On the other hand, the 4-party vested interest groups are benefited from this situation: the shrimp-farm owners, contractors, corrupted officials of BWDB and local influential persons. All of them are benefited by saline water shrimp farming in water logged areas, repairing embankments several times, bribe and corruption in relief and rehabilitation work.

It is assumed because BWDB was delaying tender process in 2009 like this year. They called tender in November 2009 and issued Work Order in February 2010. At the same time, river water started rising as an effect of monsoon.

Who can explain the actual objectives of the government? When will the declaration of PM will be executed?