How quick funding helped save hundreds of families from starvation

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Kohinur Begum is one of the beneficiaries of Start Fund Bangladesh’s 72 hour rapid response mechanism Rajib Dhar

A total of 18,610 families have been affected by floods and river erosion in Bhuapur upazila. Among them, 680 families lost everything

Thousands of families in the char areas of Bangladesh have been stranded by flash floods this year. Arable farmlands have been swept beneath unprecedented water levels at the most opportune moment. 

The flooding compounded the calamity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing those who had lost their jobs to return to the secure agricultural life in the countryside. However, the inundated farmlands brought them no respite. 

Many residents of char areas across the country received food and economic support following recent floods, but the recipients are now pleading for more aid as the amount was inadequate for the long term.

In August, under their “Monsoon flood response 2020 in Bhuapur upazila of Tangail District (2nd wave)”, NDP provided relief to 800 families in two unions of Bhuapur upazila. Tk3,000 and a hygiene kit package (bucket with water purification tabs, soap, masks, sanitary pads, sanitizer and some other items) were given while 50 tubewells were renovated and 8 new ones set up, along with 6 new latrines, meeting the demand for fresh drinking water and sanitation in remote char areas.  The interventions were carried out with the support of Start Fund Bangladesh and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) formerly known as UKAID.

Sona Banu, 70, living on Char Chandani in Gabsara union of Bhuapur upazila, Tangail, was given a tiny amount of about Tk200-300 by her son every month. The floods hit and Sona’s son lost his job. “I survived in the dark at night, as I could not afford to buy kerosene and my meals were mostly just rice and potato.” 

With four children to tend to, Sona was a recipient of NDP’s cash package and hygiene kit and although she can now light her lamp at night and has money to feed her family, she is growing increasingly concerned about what will happen when the money eventually runs out.

NDP has also helped char dwellers with access to safe drinking water by digging tube wells, on Char Chandani, where about 20 families had re-settled after their homes were lost to river erosion. 

Kohinur Begum, 40, said: “Earlier we had to travel 1.5km by boat to collect potable water but now we have easier access.”

According to the Project Implementation Office (PIO) of Bhuapur, a total of 18,610 families have been affected by floods and river erosion in the upazila. Among them, 680 families lost everything. 

NDP provided relief to 800 families in two unions (Gabsara and Arjuna) of Bhuapur upazila. However, there are still many families who are out of the reach of both government relief and NGO support. 

NDP Deputy Director Kazi Masuduzzaman clarified: “Due to Start Fund Bangladesh’s 72 hour Rapid Response mechanism, we managed to be the first ones to respond to this crises. However, this also highlighted the urgent requirement of having an anticipatory list of vulnerable people, prepared through coordinated efforts of both government and non-government organisations, before disaster strikes. A ‘One District One List’ could help us reach vulnerable communities faster and avoid the issue of duplication.” 

Monir Hossain, chairman of Gabsara Union Parishad, said: “NDP provided a larger amount of goods and cash to the flood victims than the government relief, because as an NGO, they have access to foreign funds, while the government has to look after the entire country with a limited budget. There are 47 villages in my union. Thousands of inhabitants are isolated on different chars away from the mainland and while some are surviving on loans or collecting advances on their labour, most are jobless. Generally, a day labourer earns Tk300-350 in char areas. Currently, there are not enough opportunities to earn even Tk100 a day.”

“At least two more months are needed before farming can begin, but the water levels are not receding fast enough.”

Start Fund Bangladesh’s support of NDP’s interventions, was thus meant to help the locals avoid these negative coping mechanisms of selling their assets or getting loans. 

Start Fund Bangladesh responded immediately 

Md Alauddin Khan, executive director of NDP, said: “Our aim was to follow Start Fund Bangladesh’s approach of ‘Leave No One Behind’, by including remote communities that might fall through the overall aid and relief packages. The Pandemic made it harder to reach them but our staff, braved the weather and COVID-19 induced conditions to distribute in the char areas. It often took hours just to reach a char by boat and we only had seven days to complete distributions. These interventions were very much based on the dedication and sacrifices of our staff.”  

How does Start Fund Bangladesh respond so fast?

Start Fund Bangladesh ensures fund allocation within 72 hours of an alert from its member organizations. The entire process involves the time taken to raise an alert by a member organisation, to waiting for proposal submissions and shortlisting these submissions, by the Project Selection Committee. This is an autonomous body of representatives from member organisations. 

Sajid Raihan, country manager of Start Fund Bangladesh, said: “The Fund advocates for a mechanism where civil society actors have a role to play in the evolution of disaster risk management – to make it more rapid, proactive and responsive to the needs and demands of affected communities and front line actors, while facilitating their direct access to humanitarian aid.

Start Fund Bangladesh is a £10 million rapid emergency response fund created by the Start Network in 2017 with support from (FCDO), modelled on the successful Start Fund that activates funding within 72 hours of a crisis alert.

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