Youth responding to flood crisis

Talking to students at different campuses in the country, Sohel Tarek writes about the way, youth has responded to the current flood crisis.

 

Bangladesh, 2017. Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers are distributing cooked meals to the flood-affected communities in Dinajpur.

Bangladesh, 2017.
Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers are distributing cooked meals to the flood-affected communities in Dinajpur.

The country witnessed four severe floods in the last four decades. Of them, the flood of 1998 was the worst when two-thirds of the county remained submerged for nearly three months.

The flood that hit the country this year, in many commentators account, is worse than the previous ones.  More than one-third of the country has been flooded. The three north-eastern districts bore the worst. People took shelter in make shift flood relief camps. Spend days and nights waiting for food and aid. Many, mostly children died.

In this time of crisis, the way young people from all walks of life responded with different relief initiatives. It was a first for many of them and the experience of relief distribution was an eye-opening experience.

Sanjida Haque, a student of Ahsanullah University and the team leader of Traveler’s Café worked to help people in the waterlogged areas and raising fund for them. Sanjida recalls, ‘As I was standing with my friend at Teacher Student Centre, Dhaka University, a group of young people came to us with a box and asked to contribute some money for the flood-affected people. I gave little and curiously asked them why they have taken such initiative.’

In response they have quoted from Nikolai Ostrovsky, ‘Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him at once. So live it in way that when dying s/he might say: all my life, all my strength was given to the finest cause in the world, for the Liberation of Mankind.’ Then, they rushed to another crowd. That moment I felt, I don’t have a place to go to be with people. I’ll find something to do. I’ll get out and walk. Go into my campus and talk with some of my friends. I’ll find something. I’ve just got to work for it.’

She described it like this, while I asked her what might provoke them to engage in such humanitarian work for needy people.

According to government officials, the devastating flood claimed over 150 lives, and displacing a million more. An estimate of over 79.93 lakhs people have been impacted by the heavy rains and landslides. About 45,000 homes and about 5.91 hectares’ croplands in the country have been destroyed. More than 1,000 schools are closed due to the flooding. Moreover, the road communication has been severely damaged in the affected areas.

Yet, somehow amidst all the chaos, hardship and widespread devastation, the youngsters of Bangladesh have found positivity to take from the experience of the monsoon floods. The youth use their strength, creativity and imagination to serve their nation. Besides, mass collection of money, they organised book fairs, street art exhibitions, charity concerts and other innovative programmes.

A student of Dhaka University, who organised a charity concert, Hasib Mohammad Ashiq said that, ‘We, the young people are a crucial segment of society; they are the basis for future development. Young people are social actors of change and can serve as a pressure group to lobby governments in defining their priorities. It has been clearly stressed that youth are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but the partners of today. Youths have some responsibility towards their country. Therefore, we feel obligated to take an initiative in such a terrible situation. I think, we need to learn from yesterday and hope for a better tomorrow.’

While water levels are beginning to recede, the situation is worsening due to an acute shortage of safe drinking water, food and proper sanitation; there also arises the tension about the spread of water-borne diseases. Every day, many people are being affected with different types of diseases, including diarrhea, dysentery, eye diseases, eczema, itching, skin infection, fever, pneumonia and other water-borne ailments.

Under the circumstances, some of the cultural and youth organisations were able to organise themselves. Several organisations have opened camps to produce dry food, saline and other necessary goods to provide among affected people.

Ronia Sultana, from Jagannath University, Dhaka, helped in sorting the collected material for distribution. ‘We packed 50 sacks with 10 packets each of necessary items, such as clothes for men, women and children; shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste; blanket, and about 6,000 packets of rice’, she said. Ronia highlighted the importance of packing materials in such a way that while distributing, the volunteers would face no problems. She also understood the importance of team work while volunteering. ‘Everyone listened to everyone, there were no arguments and people really co-operated’, she said.

Anupam Roy, studying in the final year of engineering at Bangladesh Textile Engineering University, is happy about the neat organisation and efficient distribution of the items.

Kaniz Fatema, studying economics at Eden Mohila College, joined the operations with Ronia. She observed that women were reluctant to come and receive the sanitary napkins, though they were in need of these. ‘We had to pack these in black bags for distribution among women. We also packed ointments, ear drops, saline and medicine’ she said.

Besides Dhaka, students from other cities like Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogra, Gaibandha also participated to this work. They simultaneously raised funds and volunteered to distribute necessary goods.

All the local volunteers observed the need for better organisation of relief efforts. Pradeep Ghosh, a student of Carmichael University College, Rangpur said, ‘I learnt some important things while volunteering. From my experience, I think we need a central agency to co-ordinate the relief efforts to avoid duplication and corruption. Besides, there have been some rural areas in the north-western region where people have been stranded for days without supplies and food. It is important to focus on these.’ He also added that, ‘The government is the only agency that could play this role.’

‘It was a horrible experience for me’, says Abidul Islam, a student of Dinajpur Government College, ‘I think this is the most serious humanitarian crisis I’ve ever seen. A woman of about 35 years, named Asma Khatun, came down from the roof of her house to me. She said, she had spent the night up there along with her 6-month-old baby daughter. Surprisingly, I observed that, Asma Khatun is not the only one; there are many of them like her. We served them what we could manage, but that was not sufficient.’ He also added, ‘People sheltered the homeless regardless of their religion. Religious institutions fed the hungry; they didn’t ask who followed which religion.’

As the flood water is receding, people are dismantling their temporary shacks perched on embankments, or vacating flood shelters to return to home. Even though, they have missed the season of planting rise, farmers return to their farming land. Signs of recovery are visible in some areas I visited — Rangpur, Dinajpur and Kurigram. The crisis is not over yet. As the farmers say, the worst is yet to come as they will be without harvest this year. Many are still living in starvation.

When the one-third of the country was flooded, it was very reassuring that students and youth of the nation got involved in the the relief operations and actively engaged with the efforts instead being an distant witness. Many left their comfort of familiarity to reach out and help people in places such as Kurigram, Jamalpur, Gaibandha, Thakurgaon districts. Their actions were valuable indeed.

All of it happened because the youth of the country took the situation into their own hands, no one trolled the people involved, because they all have the same moral values. They respond early to the call of national crisis.

It is not always true that, young men and women are sitting at home or roaming about aimlessly instead of bettering themselves or they have no vision. They do have dreams and the urge to respond to the call of the nation. Once again they proved that, things have to change. If any section of the society in any country is most important to make change happen, it is young people. For that matter, Bangladesh has hope.

 

Sohel Tarek is a student of Dhaka University

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