Road to resilience: A success to be replicated

Oxfam in Asia - Bangladesh - Road to Resilience - A success to be replicated

Women in Khonjonmara getting safe drinking water from a flood-resistant tube well. (Photo credit by Apurbo Saha/GUK)

"If it were not for this flood-resistant innovation, you would still see quite a number of people suffering from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases."
Mosammat Hamida Begum

“We have gotten habituated to it. The floods here come and go. But no worries, we are ready, we will survive”, said Mosammat Hamida Begum, referring to the flooding recurring almost each and every year during monsoon season in Bangladesh.

Much of Bangladesh is low-lying and flood-prone, but the ‘Chars’ or sandy river island areas are particularly vulnerable. The Char lands of the Brahmmaputra-Jamuna river basin area are in the North of Bangladesh. On 30 July 2016, Hamida Begum, together with all her family members and neighbours, sought shelter in Khonjonmara Primary School, a flood shelter in Bondober Union at Rowmari Upazila.

Hamida is only one of the hundreds of people residing in the northern char area within Kurigram district. The district lies almost on the lap of the river Brahmmaputra, which causes the frequent floods and river erosions to its vulnerable communities. Not only do the households get washed away, but the fields and other infrastructures get destroyed. The floods also leave its residents vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

“We don’t know the reason behind the frequent flooding. We could only observe how much it is getting worse. Maybe, this is the impact of climate change. You see, this year, the flood levels are much higher than what we have ever experienced before.” shared Hamida.

Her community used to consider the 2008 flood levels as the worst they have seen. Those levels have already been exceeded this year. Because of the unpredictable floods, people, especially women, children – and excluded communities – suffered more than what they were used to. Plinths, clusters, households and other infrastructures became submerged in flood. Even the ground floor of Khonjonmara Primary School – the flood shelter accommodating around 50 residents – got flooded.

“Union Parishad (Local Government Institute) provided us with rice and dry food. Most of us were also able to receive emergency packs. What was lacking is safe water and sanitation. The toilets in the shelter were quite inadequate. There was only one toilet on the first floor. But this time, we were surprised to find an elevated tube well, where we could get safe drinking water near the shelter”, shared Hamida.

Oxfam constructed this flood-resistant tube well via its WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Resilience program last 2015. The tube well was designed to have two platforms – one is at normal height like other conventional wells, another is at a higher level in order to withstand highest flood levels. When there are no floods, the tube well remain on the lower platform so that people could collect water easily. A caretaker is assigned and trained for each community to elevate the tubewell, as soon as the floodwaters begin to rise higher.

“So, yes, it is different this time around. Not only did the floodwaters rise higher; we now are also getting safe water despite of the worsening situation. When they were building the tube well, we were a little worried that it might sink just like the other facilities. But it did not. It worked perfectly. During the floods, everyone paddled their makeshift boats to the tube well”, she continued.

But, why is this type of tube well still not available in disaster prone areas? “We have started piloting this tube well since last year, and we found this quite successful during this year’s flood. We will try to mobilize resources from other donors also. And, as this is still a pilot project, other NGOs and government can also take initiatives to replicate and mainstream this across the country. The only challenge is that the cost is a bit higher to build,” said Md. Monir, Project Coordinator of Gono Unnayan Kendra (GUK).

“The tube well has been a blessing for us all. If it were not for this flood-resistant innovation, you would still see quite a number of people suffering from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. I think government can install more, even if it costs more to build, because in return, it would significantly reduce the cost of emergency relief”, Hamida said proudly.