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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Bangladesh flood worker's diary
Elora Ferdous is a project officer with the British aid agency, Oxfam, in north-west Bangladesh.

She is helping the country cope with its worst flooding in years, with tens of thousands of people either marooned or displaced as water covered as much as 60% of the country.

As the waters recede, the danger of water-borne diseases such as cholera becomes greater.

Aid agencies like Oxfam have been stretched to the limit. Elora has written a diary for BBC News Online about her experiences.

Day 1

I head out by road for north-western Bangladesh, one of the worst flood-affected regions in the country. This is my first experience as a humanitarian worker and it is in at the deep end, if you will excuse the pun.

Boy in Dhaka flood
As the floods recede, water borne diseases become more of a worry

We arrive at Gaibanda, a small town in the north-west and go to meet our colleagues who have been working flat-out for days. The floodwater has just receded from the office but its ravages are still very apparent.

Foot-high stains mark the walls and the yard is full of dead plants and mud.

There are 30 million people affected by flooding in Bangladesh. A daunting task ahead. I spent the day with colleagues developing plans for relief distribution to the people most badly affected.

Day 2

This morning we finalized our distribution plans. We selected around 2,500 people in each county who are in most urgent need of assistance.

Picking people like this makes you feel pretty awful about those you are unable to get to. So many are affected but with limited resources, we can only distribute to the most vulnerable.

I know that other agencies are also distributing relief and it was likely that other families would be covered by them. Nevertheless, not a good feeling.

Day 3

Travelled on a motorboat for two hours to reach a flood shelter. I saw the flood shelter long before we reached it - covered with trees, and hundreds of people.

Flood shelters are a bit like a massive football field artificially raised many feet above ground level. Oxfam has helped fund dozens of these in preparation for just such a flood.

Flooding scene in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Millions have lost their homes

When the waters started rising people gathered on these flood shelters with their families, their animals and whatever possessions they could carry. Simple but effective.

It is good to know that the work my colleagues at Oxfam have done before the floods has helped save thousands of lives now the rains have come.

Our boat docked at the shelter and immediately we were surrounded by dozens of children who had obviously been waiting for us. This is where Oxfam was going to distribute relief packages of food the next day.

Day 4

A night spent on the flood shelter. There were around 100 families living on the shelter - all had come with their livestock - the most precious asset in a rural household.

Families were huddled together under shelters made with plastic sheeting. People and animals slept side by side.

Many of these families had lost their homes when flood water eroded the river bank where their homes had stood. They had nothing to go back to. One woman I talked to said that in the last 14 years the river had "devoured" her homes 12 times.

Day 5

At another distribution centre today, this time on the mainland. Women had gathered to collect their share of the relief packages we are providing.

Boat on flooded area
Millions of dollars have been lost because crops are flooded

These contain basics like 32kg of rice, 4kg of pulses, 4kg of cooking oil, salt, soap and some clothing. The mothers brought all their children to the distribution point.

They were too scared to leave them at home in case they fell into the water or were bitten by the snakes that have also been driven from their homes by the floodwater.

But before the distribution could take place, the skies opened and everyone was drenched within minutes. Children, small and thin, looked skeletal with their hair plastered to their skulls. They clung to their mothers for warmth.

Day 6

Another long boat journey to another flood shelter. In the distance I saw a small raft made of banana trunks bobbing on the water.

As we came nearer I could see a girl of eight or nine years cradling a baby on one arm. With the other arm she was scooping out small silver fish gathered in the cluster of water hyacinths.

A typical picture of the bravery and strength that for me sets apart the people living on banks of the Brahmaputra river.

They will need every ounce of this strength over the coming weeks.

As the waters recede the dangers of disease grow. Oxfam will continue to do all that it can but the scale of the disaster is awesome.

To give to Oxfam's emergency work in the flood affected regions of Bangladesh and India please call (00 44) 0870 333 2700 or donate online at www.oxfam.org.uk


SEE ALSO:
Developers add to flood misery
13 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Bangladesh counts the cost of flooding
07 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Bangladesh appeals for flood aid
03 Aug 04  |  South Asia
In pictures: South Asia floods
03 Aug 04  |  In Pictures
Dhaka floods prompt sewage fears
26 Jul 04  |  South Asia
Bangladesh prays for floods to ease
23 Jul 04  |  South Asia


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