DHAKA - As millions of Bangladeshis return to their homes in the wake of massive floods, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for international support for long-term strategies to enable the poor and vulnerable to cope with the annual monsoon crisis.
With the flood victims leaving the emergency shelters and improvised homes on higher ground, they need assistance not only to restore their households but also to acquire skills and assets that will arm them against the next disaster, WFP Representative Douglas Casson Coutts said. On average, one third of Bangladesh is flooded every year.
"In Bangladesh, we have to move away from band-aid solutions and toward the logical, long-term remedies that will equip people to bounce back from the flood damage every year," Coutts said.
"The most effective humanitarian aid for the monsoon season is the construction of physical protection for the environment, like embankments and sea dykes, and investment to build up the knowledge, skills and assets of Bangladeshis. That way, they will not be rendered totally helpless when the floods inevitably come their way," Coutts said.
Emphasizing that under WFP's US$74-million emergency operation four million people will get food aid in return for repairing roads and building dykes and embankments, Coutts strongly urged donors to give much-needed support to the planned activities.
He also noted that WFP has to date received less than 20 percent of the funds needed for the emergency operation. Time is running out for the agency if it wants to start the serious, protracted relief efforts for a total of five million people hit by the floods.
"The problem now is the damage to people's homes and livelihoods," said Coutts. "We can help the most vulnerable put their lives back together this year but we want as well to give them the basic tools so they can do it themselves in the years to come. But for that we need the support of the donor community."
Coutts explained that anti-poverty activities, like WFP's Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) programme, gives women instruction in nutrition, literacy and human rights as well as an income-earning skill that takes them out of the hard-core poverty class and gives them genuine resiliency against the misfortunes incurred by natural disasters.
"Our VGD graduates are in a better position to fight back," he said. "They have developed the resources to better withstand the loss of property and food stocks."
Coutts stressed that WFP's extensive development activities, including the VGD, have created an effective distribution network for emergency food distributions. In the very first days of the crisis, for example, WFP got a week's supply of high-energy biscuits to 1.8 million people.
The floods are estimated to have killed more than 600 people, destroyed rice crops and damaged seedbeds across more than 800,000 hectares of farmland and left 20 million people in need of food assistance over the next 12 months. Total damage is estimated at US$7 billion.
WFP is leading a Disaster Emergency Response team, comprising UN and NGO technical officers, undertaking an assessment of humanitarian needs by way of food, health, water, sanitation and household repair. The assessment will be published on 22 September.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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