Building Resilience, Constructing Lives

One of the beneficiaries of UNDP-ERF reconstructing his house at Jumkarchar in Kurigram Sadar. Photo: Santu Das/UNDP

Like every other day, Abdur Rashid and his family went to bed early knowing they would have to be up again in a few hours, ready for work. But as he fell asleep to the sloshing of the rain accompanied by the occasional rumbling of thunder, a strange feeling of unease played at the back of his mind.

In the wee hours of the night, a dreaded roaring startled him and he sat up in bed. A thousand thoughts went through his head as he saw the barrage of water gush into his home, tearing through the flimsy fencing. He yelled for his family members to wake up, as he rushed towards the broken wall of the hut to try and hold off the water with his own body and whatever else he found near. Within a few seconds he realized his efforts were futile – there was no stopping this. He screamed for help frantically and waded to the other side of the hut to try and lift the bed, one of the very few possessions in their otherwise scant house. Soon he realized their efforts here would fall short too, as he saw the level of water increase rapidly over the bed and their belongings.

By this time the neighbours who had heard his shouts for help had arrived, and were trying to hold the fencing of the hut down with every ounce of strength they could muster. Abdul Rashid was calculating in his head, what belongings they could carry out of the house. As he looked around, while trying to hold the bed in place, he realized that the worry etched across everyone’s faces was fast being replaced with one of slow admitting defeat. They started telling him to let go, as one by one, almost everyone swam out of their house. He felt someone grabbing his arm and pulling him away. As he pushed forth against the strong current, he turned around to see what was once their home, wash away in depths of the boorish black night.

According to a study, ‘Impacts of Flood on Char Livelihoods and its Adaptation Techniques by the Local People,’ (undertaken by Department of Environmental Science and Resource Management, MawlanaBhashani Science and Technology University) around 82% of char dwellers are affected by flood annually, with 60% on average having their crops washed away. The study claims that,  ‘During flood, almost 88.89% farmers pass their days having no alternative occupation, and cannot afford to meet basic needs of their family as most of the Char lands are inundated for about two to three months.’

Abdur Rashid and his family were one of the many Char households affected by the flood of 2015. In his life of 64 years, this was the 68th time that Rashid lost his home. But every time he felt the same pang of unbearable loss, as he watched the life that he built, devoured by the powerful river.

They arrived at Khamarbaspatari Char the next day along with fifty other flood-affected families, and had no choice but to settle very close to the river bank, in a space carpeted with sharp cutting grass, and home to few types of snakes. 

Anwara, wife of Rashid, described the pitiful condition their lives have spiraled down to - “We scavenged for whatever pieces of iron and bark we found floating on the river and have built a makeshift home, yet again - this time, in Khamarbaspatari Char. We have lost any assets we had and all our shared crops too. We have nothing to go on anymore. Our family’s living on just 1 kg of plain rice, for every three days.” 

Khamarbashpatari Char is one of the target areas where Early Recovery Facility (ERF) of UNDP, has reached out to flood-prone and erosion-prone victims in 2016, and Rashid’s family is one of them. Post floods of 2015, as part of a UN Joint initiative funded by DFID, ERF UNDP came to the aid of many char inhabitants to increase the resilience of vulnerable families in Kurigram and Gaibandha districts.  2,250 households (comprising around 10,125 people) have benefitted through raised homesteads, two feet high above the highest flood level . Additionally, these 2,250 households also received shelter support of 10,000 taka each, to repair/reconstruct their houses as necessary, to make them safe against future floods. Cash-for-Work activities also created employment opportunities for 11,000 beneficiaries in target areas. As a result of UNDP interventions, Rashid and his family have had their homestead raised, as well as received 10,000 taka in shelter support. Now their previous makeshift house stands strong as a sturdy and resilient home.  

UNDP’s Early Recovery Facility, is a way of financing and implementing emergency response and early recovery efforts to disasters, with the aim of minimizing the gap between relief phase and long-term recovery. To support the government in times of crisis, ERF has a fund of USD 60 million at its disposal to be able to quickly respond to emergencies based on build back better approaches.

As a part of the UN Joint Response, ERF UNDP generated employment through CfW activities for 11,000 beneficiaries for 6000 taka a month. Partial payments for the CfW activities were conducted through Mobile Money Transfer (MMT) services. Beneficiaries received Banglalink SIMS free-of-cost and each were provided a Mobile Banking Account with DBBL, under their own name. The CfW was undertaken to raise the homesteads of 2,250 households, who also received 10,000 taka each for repair and refurbishments of their houses, to make them more resilient in the face of future disaster events. 

ERF interventions have significantly reduced vulnerability of many in Kurigram and Gaibandha districts. Lal Miah, one of the beneficiaries from Jumkar Char, Jatrabari Union of Kurigram Sadar said, “We could never have raised the plinth or been able to construct such a house, without this support.  We feel safer now. We are confident that monsoons are not going to be a big threat to us anymore!” 



[1] Highest flood level is being considered as highest water level from the floods of 2007.

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