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     Volume 6 Issue 34 | August 31, 2007 |

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Impact's Battle Against the Floods

Nick Huber and Rezwan Haque

You can read about the floods in rural Bangladesh, but the descriptions are inadequate compared to the experience of seeing the devastation firsthand. You can study maps that show how Bangladesh is situated in the world's largest delta, but that does not allow you to see the Ganges River stretching out into the horizon which looks more like a lake and flows wide at points where a bridge can't cross over.

Jibon Tori, The Boat of Life provides healthcare to people in remote areas.

As undergraduate students from the U.S., we had been invited by Impact Foundation Bangladesh, an NGO that specialises in preventing and curing disabilities. It runs several hospitals and field programmes all over the country and is best known for their Jibon Tori, The Boat of Life, which is located in remote areas to provide free healthcare to thousands. The boat is a floating hospital that travels to different villages in the country's many rivers providing free medical care.

We were to spend a month in Bangladesh and visit different relief operation sites. One of them was in Baghabari, Pabna to stay on the Jibon Tari where we saw how the flood had wrecked havoc. In the past month, hundreds have died and millions have been displaced from their homes. While the flood would soon become a boon for the villagers by fertilizing their crops with its rich silt, for now the only concern for the flood-affected population was survival. Heavy rain and runoff created large potholes in the roads resulting in heavy traffic and harsh driving conditions. Many of the surrounding buildings were left marked by the flood's chest-level water that had only receded the week before. Others had been reduced to tattered mud walls and tin roofs spread out on the ground. Life had almost gone back to normal as children played in a small clearing nearby with their legs covered in mud. The aftermath of the flood was still visible and real.

A person with disability waits in line for relief.

By the side of the road at the Impact table, people lined up to collect relief packages that would aid a family for a week. The packages included some 20 items, including rice, water, candles, matches, etc. Impact had selected the destitute flood victims including the disabled and their children, to receive relief packages, many of whom had their houses destroyed. They were selected based on information gathered from villages and by also having loudspeaker announcements about the relief efforts. Once they found the people in the village who needed the most help, they were registered with Impact at a local council member's house and received a slip of paper that could be exchanged for a relief package.

At the relief table, Impact officials and the council member presented the contents of the package and took questions. They closed off their last meeting after running the relief programme for several weeks. It was unsettling when many other villagers watched the distribution asking for help when there was nothing for them. Those who received help were chosen with care and were the worst affected. With such despair everywhere, it is difficult to say if there could be enough.

Shahidul, an 18-year-old who had become disabled by polio when he was a child could not carry the relief bag because he moved with difficulty and his father accompanied him to carry the aid. Their house had been completely washed away, and they were currently living at Shahidul's uncle's house. They told us that they had travelled an hour by boat to come to the relief distribution point. Shahidul's father was worried about the future since he had lost his means of livelihood: he was a weaver and used to work from his home, making cloth. He did not know where he was going to live once the floodwaters receded. They did not have enough money to build a new house; the relief package provided some short-term relief, but Shahidul and his family were going to have a hard time for months to come. In an area where most people are self-employed as weavers or farmers, the loss of a source of income is a heavy blow.

Some Impact workers found a woman with clubfoot, which had gone through an orthopedic operation at Jibon Tari coming a few years ago in another part of the country where she was living then. When she heard about Jibon Tari to this particular area, she had come to meet with the doctors to show her foot. Impact's reputation and goodwill was substantial among those whose lives had been helped by the organisation.

It is disconcerting to think that this type of human despair happens on such a large scale every year and so little is done about it. The American people still remember Hurricane Katrina, but it is difficult to imagine the outrage if it were to happen every year and in a harsher form. Many in the United Kingdom were affected by this summer's floods, but the death toll was far below the flood aftermath in Bangladesh and below the death toll in even the mildest of flood seasons here. Obviously, one will always care more when it happens in their home country, but it does not mean one can ignore death and devastation that occurs to other people around the world. We believe those who live in developed countries have a responsibility to confront this despair wherever it happens, considering they could have just as easily have been born in Bangladesh rather than the more privileged nations of the world.

The writers are undergaduate students at Harvard University, U.S.

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