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  • 1. M.B.Dash Liton, Shushilan Community safeguarding on Disaster management Background: Kashimari union is situated at the east side of Shamnagar sub-district of Sathkhira district. Khulpetua River flows by the east side of the union. Total population of the union is 30235, where 70% of people are poor and 25% hardcore poor. Agriculture and prone farming are the main professions of the union. It is highly disaster prone area due to geographical location, nearer Bay of Bangal, connecting rivers, canals and salinity. Crop farming of the union is being decreased due to increasing salinity. Prone farmers usually regulate the saline water by holing embankment, which increases disaster risk at the community level. Nearer Sundarbans works here as a safe guard of the union against cyclone and storm surge, the people were comparatively less aware in Cyclone Aila. But the helpless community was badly affected by the devastating cyclone Aila on 25th May, 2009, where 80% of embankment, 70% of the road, 80% of latrines and 70% of crops were partially and fully damaged. However, a genuine volunteer group named Shushamaj saved thousands of lives and assets from devastating cyclone Aila. The community safe guarder Shushamaj: Shushamaj is one of the voluntary groups of Kashimari union, developed in January 2008 by Shushilan, a national non government organization, specialized in disaster management in coastal belt of Bangladesh. The committee is organized by the selected representatives of the local community for the development of the grass root level. The main objectives of the group is to assist and strengthen the local government, to establish justice & good governance, protection & mobilize local resources, strengthen the civil society and to disaster risk management at the community level etc. This group is not only motivated and trained on strengthening the local government, but also play an important role for disaster management at the grass root level. There are ward level Shusamaj committee, union level Shusamaj committee, Sub-district and district level Shusamaj committee to work and coordinate the activities jointly and effectively. These groups proved their capacities and volunteerism on development sectors and on humanitarian crisis. Kashimari Union Shushamaj group is one of the champion groups of Shushilan, which effectively disseminated and utilized their trainings’ learning during pre and post disaster. This group heroically had taken some initiatives to mitigate societal problems and disaster risk at the grass root level community which encourage us to know them more. Experiences on Cyclone Aila and initiative to announce early warning: Though all classes of people were affected by devastating cyclone Aila, some heroic initiatives of Shusamanj saved thousands of lives and assets from danger. How did they save the lives and took care thousands of refugees during humanitarian crisis. Let’s try to heed such a gallant events from their experiences. “It was 24th May, 2009. When I hear from radio and television’s announcing signal no 4, I immediately thought that we should call our volunteers and should be prepared for disaster response. Wind was blowing strongly and it was generating more energy than early morning. After taking my prayer, I phoned several members and well wishers about weather condition and should immediately prepare for early warning and rescue operation. I also told them I am going to union council office complex with my siren which I got from my father. Within short time, we were organized and started early warning from the floor of Union council office. When we were 1
  • 2. M.B.Dash Liton, Shushilan circulating early warning on cyclone, some of the people were laughing and did not take care. But we were continued our early warning message and sent the families into safer place.” said Md.Raja gulbahar of Kashimari union Shusamaj committee. Unfortunately, his assumption was perfect and they had to start rescue operation after one day. Initiative of Rescue operation: Despite the fact that more than seven thousands people were wounded and 190 people died in Bangladesh by brutal attack of cyclone Aila, compare to others unions, losses of life was almost nothing due to heroic voluntarism of Shushamaj committee at Kashimpur union. (Source-MoFDM) “It was 25th May, 2009 about at noon when cyclone Aila attacked us. We all were busy for early warning and rescuing the people to go to safer place. Suddenly, the current was coming from the river side by crossing over and damaging the embankment. It looked so gloomy and blackish that I could not explain. Within short time, it was spread all over the union. We had nothing to do to protect only lives of the people and their valuable assets.” said Proshanto Kumar mondol, Gulbahar and others. The ward and union committee jointly worked in rescue operation to send the affected people to safer place (nearer cyclone shelters, union office complex, and school buildings and nearer high rise buildings etc) by using motorized and non motorized van and motor cycles etc. Moreover, they organized the volunteers to clean the roads and to bury dead bodies of cattle and goats etc. Heroic initiative of embankment repair: “When radio and television announced signal number 4 on 24th May, 2009 in the evening, we talked with chairman that there are some weaker points of embankment at Tepkhali more, which need to repair immediately. Otherwise, if the cyclone comes, we will be affected at first and damages will be more. If you support us we want to repair it as soon as possible. Chairman Md. Gazi Anisuzzman assured us that he will provide all kind of supports to Shushamaj to repair the embankment. He also reiterated that please continue early warning, if weather permits we will start repairing work of embankment to reduce danger. Unfortunately, cyclone Aila attacked us on the next day at noon. And the embankment was destroyed from first strong current pressure of Aila. If we would repair the weak points and would raise the embankment, it might 2
  • 3. M.B.Dash Liton, Shushilan be saved the community from brutal danger. So, we were not ready to wrong again,” said members of Shushamaj committee. They called a meeting at Natun Bazaar to collect support to repair embankment right away. Chairman had nothing to say but yes. They separated by different groups to collected necessary materials such as bamboo, rope, CI sheet and spade etc (what ever they were necessary) and to organize the community people. All classes of people were gathered to work in embankment. It was arduous to repair embankment due to strong current. One group barricaded the current water by CI sheet, bamboo, logs, and roofs and others groups gave soil. Within eight days, they repaired almost all danger points without any government assistances. After eight days, government relief came, but they converted it food for work by consulting with chairman so that repairing work might continue. they worked there about four months to repair embankment. Now, they are comparatively safe. If they did not take initiative to repair embankment at that time, the situation would be deteriorated as like as Gabura union, where embankment is not being repaired till to date due to up & down stream. Government is expending hundreds of core of taka there and also has given responsibility to army to monitor the activities to repair embankment, but they failed due to lack of timely initiative. Who count how many cores of taka save by them? Nevertheless, they not only saved the community from danger by repairing embankment, but also monitor the relief distribution successfully. Initiative to monitor relief distribution: The president of union Shushamaj committee said that “we work to establish rights of the poor. So, it was our duty to monitor the relief distribution for being equitable and inclusive. In the beginning, UP representatives opposes us. Finally they agreed due to pressure of us and community. We assisted UPs and ensured relief distribution for the disadvantages groups by collecting claims from non receivers so that they could get access in next time. Sometimes, we also made the relief distribution flexible so that majority people could get assistance.” Women volunteers not only served the refugee in the shelter, but also they operated a camp by direct assistance of NGOs, and distributed medicine to the affected people. They also nursed the children and women in the shelters. Initiative of ensuring safe drinking water: They did not stop this activity by repairing embankment and monitoring relief distribution, rather took a brilliant initiative to repair tube-well and to ensure safe drinking water in the suffering community. Now, they also monitor and supervise 43 sweet water ponds at the union for ensuring sweet water at the community level. Initiative of Community Awareness: Shushamaj motivates the community people on social forestation, stopping unplanned holing of embankment, water & sanitation through conducting one to one discussions, group consultations, and public meetings at the schools, market place and at the grass root level. “Though we planted about half kilometer of social forestation by the side of the embankment to reduce disaster risk by our own contribution in 2008, cyclone Aila destroyed our dream’s plantation. But disaster could not stop us from community forestation. Our motivated children and people are planting sapling at their homestead and by the road side which give us confidence to work.” said Mahafuza khanam, Abdul Kader and Sufia of Kashimari union Shusamaj committee. Initiative to recover canals for DRR: Shushamaj has recovered four canals (Pathakhata, Baintola, Bagmari and Noaghora) from canal’s grabbers and are digging these by uniting UP’s 3
  • 4. M.B.Dash Liton, Shushilan representatives and the community people to canalize and storage of sweet water for crop production. “If we can successfully complete the digging of four canals, crop production must increase which will bring the smile to the poor farmers.” said Proshanto mondol, Sufia, mahafuza, Azgor hossain, Sohorab, Shahidul Islam and Rajagulbahar of Shushamaj. They also cultivate fish at one of the canals and from where 20 fishermen families’ livelihood have been ensured and extra earning goes to community plantation, sanitation and children education purposes. Crop production by the side of the canal has been increased due to sweet water irrigation. As per their comments, their most significant achievements have come from cyclone Aila and also have learned many things on disaster response from this. Comments of Chairman: We talked with union chairman and secretary about Shushamaj group’s activities and their feelings. “I am youth and new chairman of Kashimari union. I had no previous experience on such a disaster and to run union. I did not have previous experience to work with such voluntary group, Shushamaj. Truly, It would be impossible to do such amount of work within short time especially embankment repair, digging cannels, if they did not assist me. I feel proud that we have such brilliant and sincere volunteer groups to assist the local government in disaster management to save the community from danger. If they have in others union, disaster vulnerability and risks must reduce for the community,” said Md. Anisuzzaman, Chairman, Kashimari union Shushamaj is a voluntary team, is a unique effort of local people and is a strong example of disaster risk management at the community level. Despite the fact that the initiatives of Shushamaj are nothing new, their sincerity, timeliness, completely voluntarism especially saved the lives of the people and community safe guarding which enlightened them as great. This model can be disseminated to the others disaster prone areas for reducing hazards risk and vulnerability at the community level. 4