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FRESH gives Jamena hope to start afresh

January 30th, 2013 by Posted in Emergencies

Contributed by: A. Rouf of Oxfam GB
Edited by: Asad of Oxfam GB and Azam of FRESH Consortium, Abdul Quayyum and Gareth Price-Jones

It’s been about 30 years since Jamena Begum and her husband Nazim Uddin got married. They live in a particularly disaster prone area named Dhalbaria in the South-Western part of Bangladesh in the district of Satkhira, They’ve started their lives on a small piece of land gifted by Jamena’s father at the time of her wedding. The young couple was able to put together only a hut with straw roof and walls made of bamboo thatches. Now, Jamena and her husband, are both in their fifties with five loving children. Despite being a happy family, the vulnerability of her household kept on growing with increase of family members. Her husband, the only breadwinner of the household has been working as a day-labourer and was able to bring in a meager income that was hardly enough for a family of seven.

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In order to cope with the increased expenses required for education of the children and other basic needs, Jamena, on top of her home-maker role, had to look for an additional income to somehow supplement her husband’s irregular and scant earnings. She is determined and thus does not mind resorting to provide domestic help to the solvent families near and far.

As people say in Bangladesh, “misfortune never gives up on the poor”! The flood in August 2011 shattered Jamena’s dream into pieces and buried under the debris left by the flood. It washed away everything she and her family put together over many years. “Why would our lives be so cursed and what is such punishment for?” Jamena said in her broken voice bursting into tears despite her strongest will of remaining in control. When the flood approached, it forced Jamena’s family to relocate to a higher ground near Dhalbaria Bazaar. There they were living in a temporary hut made of sack-patch with no water, sanitation and health services. Their condition became even worse when all the income opportunities disappeared as a consequence of flood. Saline water inundated the agricultural land, most of the roads and houses remained mired in stagnant water for over two months. As a result hunger became a part of daily life of not only Jamena’s family but also of most of her flood affected neighbours. Three months later when the water started receding, they came back to their home and found nothing remaining to rebuild their lives. Jamena found herself in a complete despair and couldn’t think of anything except wailing at their misfortune. Her sacrifice and investment on kids’ education seemed to be all in vain unless she could shelter the family and get access to a minimum income with some social protection.

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Banchte Shekha (Learn How to Survive), a national NGO in support with Oxfam started implementing an UK Aid funded emergency project named FRESH (Flood Resistant Shelter) in the aftermath of the flood. Their staff came into Jamena’s village to identify families whose houses were completely destroyed and didn’t have the means of constructing them again. Jamena was selected by the community and local government as one of the beneficiaries and received the bricks under the FRESH project to build a brick-reinforced plinth for their home. The earth for the plinth had been raised by hand by Jamena and her family. Later she received, skilled labour support, concrete pillars, bamboo-thatch (for walls), corrugated iron sheets (for roof), as well as rings and a slab for a flood-resistant sanitary latrine. A flood resistant shelter along with a sanitary latrine now belongs to Jamena and her family. Now she and her family-members are delighted to rediscover a sense of hope . Jamena, with her family, had just completed the most difficult journey in her life that kept her preoccupied over the last several months but being selected as a beneficiary of the FRESH project she now can see the light, although in such a challenging environment it remains a long way away at the end of the tunnel!

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Completion of FRESH and its wider impact

Oxfam GB’s partner Bachte Shekta has not only completed the original planned 1086 shelters before the end January, but has also completed all the 107 extra ones. These are part of the 12,000 flood-resilient shelters with protected latrines that the Oxfam led NARRI (National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response) Consortium will have completed by the end of the project in March.

The successful on-the-ground delivery of this program is driving a huge number of discussions with Government, NARRI partners, donors (particularly DFID) and internally within Oxfam, about the best way to respond to not only the regular disasters but also the massive resilience and adaptation challenges facing Bangladesh. In stark contrast to other programs (notably UN efforts) which are underspent and hugely under-delivered, and which feed impressions that real change is not possible, Bangladesh now has a high profile example of high quality, non-corrupt, Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable (MRV) work delivered by a consortium of INGOs and NGOs in close partnership with government that hugely increases the resilience of 12,000 households/60,000 people delivered in around 9 months. In particular the power that communities and beneficiaries have had over the expression of the program has been very exciting.

This is driving wider strategic discussions around how and whether development actors should be working with populations in areas that are, on a 20-30 year timescale, not viable, or whether this creates unhelpful pull factors that stop people adapting for the long term. Coupled with the advocacy and policy work which has been an integral part of this project from day one (and enabled by its large budget and team), and supported by Barbara’s visit and the meetings she had, I feel this is an absolutely cracking example of how we can take the opportunity of a humanitarian response to drive debate, lead thinking and generate solutions to much larger development problems.

Coupled with the research that Oxfam is doing through the Action Research for Community Adaptation in Bangladesh (ARCAB) consortium and the wider Resilience program and REECALL/RESOLVE projects, Oxfam really hopes that the Government of Bangladesh and others will use this to leverage resources and urgent change at future COPs and other high-level discussions.

Though the direct impact is small in an environment where around 30 million people will need to migrate or at least significantly change all aspects of their lives over three or four decades to adapt successfully (and keep adapting), but it has at least created real options for policymakers to consider and a practical momentum that proves projects of this scale can deliver. Hopefully this will also trigger effective use by the World Bank, Government and others of adaptation funds that have sat in bank accounts for months.

  1. One Response to “FRESH gives Jamena hope to start afresh”

  2. By Asad Mohammed Asaduzzaman on Jan 30, 2013

    great story Rouf!!! much representative of the project outcomes. keep it up please.

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