In northern Bangladesh, a mother sits up throughout the night, too anxious
to go to sleep for fear of what might happen to her small
son. Kamrunn Nahar, 35, has two children and lives in Bashalia
village, which was completely under water for 15 days in August.
“I am afraid to go to sleep in case I wake up and find
the children have gone to play in the water, fallen in and
died,” she says. She is not alone in her fears. Throughout
northern Bangladesh, desperate parents are trying to teach
their unaware children about the dangers of playing in the
dirty flood waters. For those who fled the devastating floods
by boat or raft, there was added anguish.
“We didn’t know what was happening when the water
was coming. The children were afraid but at the same time
they love to play with the water,” says Munjary, 45,
of Maijhaly village.
“All around, mothers were holding their children to
them. One of my grandsons fell in the water and died —
he was just one and half. He was called Chejanush.”
For the distraught millions, many of whom have lost everything,
teaching their children to fear the water is a strange and
contradictory experience. Many of the villages affected lie
on river banks and children are encouraged to play and swim
in the water from a young age.
“We try to keep the children at home and tell them
not to go near the water but it is so difficult. The risk
is always there. This is a riverine area and the children
were brought up around the water. They were never taught to
stay away — they were taught to swim so one day they
could go fishing. To protect them now is difficult,”
As children happily play in the water, another risk looms.
For 26-year-old Jobed Ali and his 19-year-old wife, Rokia,
the daily despair continues as they watch over their small
son, Rahim, who is 3 years old.
“It was difficult with our son as he got sick from
the flood water. He fell in and has had a fever, cough, headache
and jaundice. We took refuge in the school but there was not
enough food there, so now we have come home. He still has
a fever but he is getting better.”
In response to the critical health needs of people in the
affected regions the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, with
support from the International Federation, prepared to provide
basic health-care services to 350,000 people over a period
of eight months. This included sending out 15 mobile medical
teams with essential medicines.
The aim is to ensure that sick children, like Rahim, get
the treatment they need and that other children and adults
can be prevented from falling ill in the first place.
As the filthy brown water began to recede, the full extent
of the contamination of the water, and the numerous health
risks to those surrounded by it, began to emerge.
Once again it is the most vulnerable people who are suffering
and they are ill equipped to fight the ever-constant threat
“We have seen many cases of people drinking from the
river, which is incredibly dangerous,” says Ahmad Sami,
programme officer for the International Federation.
But with the entire affected region thick with mud, and with
many people having been stranded in chest-high water for hours
or even days, avoiding the threat of disease is easier said
“Everywhere you look all you can see is mud, we are
always in the mud,” says Kamrunn Nahar.
“All of our toilets are under water so the mud and
water are contaminated… our children are playing and
bathing in this water.”
The repercussions of this are all too visible for many children
now bear the painful marks of contagious skin diseases.
“My son caught this disease from the dirty water that
surrounds us,” says Chamilly, 20, whose son, Shuboh,
is 16 months old. “We need medicines but do not have
access to any so I am trying homeopathic remedies. The problem
is it is very painful and itchy for him so he scratches it
and now it is spreading.”
Safe water remains a scarcity in the villages since the main
sources of safe drinking water, tube wells, are waterlogged,
so they’re no longer safe.
“The force of the floods was so strong that nearly
all of the latrines in the affected areas were washed away
or broken and the polluted sewage water is all around the
people,” says Sami. “We are now hearing through
local news reports that there has been a huge increase in
the number of people being admitted to hospitals with diarrhoea.”
As part of its current scaling up, the Bangladesh Red Crescent
Society and partners are constructing 350 tube wells and 4,500
latrines for affected families. While villagers wait for water
points to be repaired, the Red Crescent is distributing water
purification tablets and using teams of local volunteers to
educate people about hygiene.
“The water purification tablets currently being distributed
by the Red Crescent are a stopgap to keep people safe and
well until we can repair the many damaged water points,”
With no clean running water and no access to latrines, the
villagers are faced with a terrible choice. Nazma Khanman,
30, lives in Bashalia village with her husband and two children.
“We have the knowledge of these things. We know that
they are not hygienic to do and we know that the water around
is contaminated and we should not drink it — but often
we have no choice. What else are we supposed to do?”
©REUTERS / RAFIQUAR RAHMAN, COURTESY www.alertnet
A woman sits near her child with relief supplies
from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society at Munshibazar.
©REUTERS / RAFIQUAR RAHMAN, COURTESY www.alertnet
across Asia Pacific
In July and August, the International Federation launched
emergency appeals for over US$ 40 million to help more
than 5.3 million people affected by floods in Bangladesh,
China, Democratic Republic of Korea, Nepal and Pakistan.
In all, more than 230 million people were affected by
flooding in the Asia Pacific region, with floods also
hitting Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Thailand and Viet Nam.