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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 16:23 GMT
Bangladesh boat diary: Journey's end
All this month the BBC World Service has been travelling along the rivers of Bangladesh as part of a major project to track and debate climate change and other issues.

The BBC's Alastair Lawson, one of those on board the vessel, the MV Aboshar, describes what he witnessed as he travelled through some of the areas devastated by Cyclone Sidr.


Bangladeshis are renowned the world over for their resilience when it comes to natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. And the way they responded to Cyclone Sidr was no exception.

Bangladeshis queue for aid
The queues for aid are now much more orderly and calm

In practically every village visited by the BBC in the aftermath of the storm, there were amazing survival stories.

We heard of children who had been tied to trees on the south coast to prevent them from being blown away.

There was the pregnant woman who clung on to her three-year-old for eight hours through wind and rain.

There was Rehana who received first aid from our project manager James Sales on the Saturday after the storm. She lost one daughter but clung onto another despite literally being blown into a pond.

There was the family who encountered a tiger on their veranda in the middle of the storm.

But arguably most impressive of all was 25-year-old Shahenur, who attended the BBC's last Sanglap debate in the town of Mongla on Saturday.

She lost three children on that dreadful Thursday night, as well as her husband.

She endured water higher than her waistline for several hours, she endured trees falling down all around her, she endured sheets of flying corrugated iron whizzing past her at speeds of 240km/h (150 mph).

Villagers hand over their personal belongings in aid of other villagers

In short, she endured all that the elements had to throw while keeping her smallest child alive.

She simply refused to let him go no matter the strength of the wind or the depth of the water. At one point she clung onto the child using her bare teeth. "I knew that if I never gave up, I would see the storm through," she told us.

Having lost four members of her family, she will need similar courage and fortitude to get through the weeks and months ahead.


The BBC team on board the MV Aboshar has seen for itself how aid is slow to arrive and can be patchy.

In a way, that was a little like the storm itself.

In places we found villages devastated - with barely a house standing - but in other places hardly a few miles away only a few houses were affected.

It all seemed so arbitrary. But for the families concerned, the difference between being hit by the cyclone and escaping its ferocity is arguably the difference between having a roof over your head as winter approaches and not having any shelter at all.

It's the difference between having a crop that will feed your family this winter and having to pay ever-increasing market prices for food.

In a country where an estimated 30-40% of the population earn less than $1 a day, that is a big difference.


Foreign journalists in this part of the world often say after a natural disaster such as Sidr that the fear afterwards is of water-borne diseases such as cholera.

Woman with amphora of dirty water
Aid agencies now say the chief concern is getting clean water

But if you look at cyclones and earthquakes in India and Pakistan over the last 10 years, cholera has never really raised its ugly head in a big way.

I'm told that's because government and aid agencies are today more aware of the problem and better able to take simple steps to stop it from happening.

If that is the case, then the same ought to apply to the distribution of water purification tablets.

After all, dirty water is one of the chief reasons why cholera spreads. But nearly a week after the storm we are still meeting villagers who complain that they do not have access to clean drinking water.

"We need clean drinking water urgently. There is none here and we having to drink dirty water from the river," says Zohanara, in the village of Tafalbari.

"It is very difficult for our children. They are really suffering."


The town of Mongla is the setting. Panellists discussed the successes and failures of the response to the hurricane from aid agencies and NGOs.

People at the final BBC Sanglap programme in Mongla
The final Sanglap programme signalled the end of the journey
The consensus seems to be that the system of warning people of the imminent arrival of Sidr - and persuading them to take refuge in a cyclone shelter - worked well.

But some argue that there were not enough shelters, and more should be built for people and livestock.

So far, no precise figures have been compiled of the damage to farmers caused by Sidr.

But judging by the number of bloated livestock corpses we see every day in the river - and the number of windswept paddy fields we have seen - farmers are going to be in for a tough time over the next six months.

25 November - JOURNEY'S END

The MV Aboshar has now finally sailed into Dhaka and the month-long river cruise project - intended to chart climate issues in Bangladesh - has come to an end.

While exposing the apparent dangers of climate change, the BBC team were on hand to report the horrors of Cyclone Sidr.

Are the two issues connected? Might the ferocity of the storm have been weakened were it not for rising temperatures in the Bay of Bengal? Might such storms become more common in future?

I will leave the scientists to argue over that one.


Bangladesh cyclone hits poor hardest
18 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh boat diary: Devastation
20 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh boat diary: Cyclone coming
16 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh boat diary: River erosion
01 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh boat diary: The launch
29 Oct 07 |  South Asia


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