Forces of nature are unpredictable. Disasters caused by nature will always be part of the experience on this planet earth. Whenever the forces of nature cause death and destruction and suffering to our fellow beings we all feel the pain and desire to help them.
The cyclone Sidr that has swept through southern Bangladesh on the 15th of Nov. was one of the worst natural disasters that have happened in Bangladesh in recent history. Close to 4,000 people had died and over one million people have been affected. I jut returned from a trip to Bangladesh for cyclone relief efforts.
On my arrival in the Capital city Dhaka, we went shopping for some relief goods with my local team who assisted me during my stay. Then I met the Commander of the Bangladesh army General Moeen Ahmed. In our 30 minute visit at military headquarters we discussed short term and long term programs set by the government to help those who were affected by Cyclone Sidr. Since Bangladesh is governed under care taker government these days General Moeen Ahmed plays the most important role to govern the country under the emergency law. After the meetings in Dhaka I started the ten hour trip from Dhaka to effected areas on the 3rd of Dec.
My tour took me to some of the worst affected areas of Cyclone Sidar. By the end of my tour I have traveled by wooden boats, canoes, speed boat, bicycle rickshaws, three wheelers, cars, and buses and spent two full nights on ferry boats, spent almost three days riding in a back of a motor bicycle without a helmet. Slept in a bus, (at least I tried to sleep) while traveling to Dhaka overnight. I am perfectly healthy except a screech and couple of bumps on my head (do not ask how I got it) and few mosquito bites. At times I felt like I have traveled to the end of the world where there were no motor vehicles except the motor bicycles that we were traveling on.
Devastation coursed by Sidr was visible every where I went. Down trees and power lines, water puddles left by receding waves, small and giant pot holes of all sizes on the pathways and country roads that are mostly unpaved. Heart breaking stories of people losing everything they had. We also met many people who lost their friends and family members. I asked the families of one village who lost about 30 people in that village alone why they did not leave the area since warning was issued a day earlier. One man said, “We are poor farmers sir, we have no radios, no TVs No body came to inform us about the cyclone. When it arrived by surprised we all screamed and ran away from the water. But the waves were so high and the wind was so strong. It was dark. Most of us had no place to run. 30 of our people have died. We are trying to rebuild our lives again. It is hard.”
Late in the night of 7th of Dec. 07, I visited a family in Kalapara who lost everything. 75 year old father has lost his house and business. He had patched up his damaged house. We sat with an oil lamp on the table and shared a cup of coffee. His sick wife was sitting on a chair outside the hut. His grief and pain was obvious in his face. He said, “I am confused I do not know what to do. All my dreams have ended.”
Since my visit was short and effected area was vast I toured in the villages in the areas of Taltali, Potuakhali, Kalapara, although the emergency situation is getting better Bangladesh needs a lot of help at the moment. There are so many people who were badly affected by the Cyclone. Those who lost homes are still living under difficult conditions. This is the Christmas time when everybody gives gifts to others. Please consider sharing a gift with the people who are affected by Sidr. I have undertaken several small projects that you could be part of.
Our contributions to date;
While I was there we distributed Saris and cloth for men and women in one village and bought school book worth of 70.000 Taka, ($1,000.), to help the college students. I have made all the arrangements to build 12 homes, two village mosques and one village Buddhist shrine that was completely destroyed by cyclone as part of our contribution to help bring normalcy again to two of the villages.
I have appointed Akbar, a local resident who lived in the US for long time to be my personal assistant and the project manager there. Depending on the result of our first efforts and the nature of the needs in few months we will decide whether to continue our efforts or not. I am sure I will get the support of the military if we were to do any major projects in Bangladesh. Robert Rowen who got me involved in cyclone relief work in the first place will continue to support our programs from Florida.