Thirty-year-old Mahinur Begum built the road she stands on with her own hands. In a WFP food-and-cash-for-work project, she and other villagers re-excavated the canal and built up the embankment-cum-road to protect adjacent fields and villages from floods.
Photo: WFP/Cornelia Paetz
In Patharghata, one of the most disaster-affected areas on Bangladesh’s southern coastal belt, WFP helps communities increase their resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. In the process, the participants, most of them women, gain much more than resilient homes: they increase their knowledge and awareness about these weather-related hazards, boost their income and invest in their future.
JOM JOM ABARSHOM - Small villages like Jom Jom Abarshom, located on a low-lying plain close to the Bay of Bengal, are on the frontline of the battle against climate change and recurrent natural disasters.
In 2007 and 2009, the area was devastated by two cyclones. Fatema Begum, a 33-year old mother of two, recalls her family’s ordeal: “We had to swim through the water, holding each other’s hands, to get to the area shelter. When we returned, our house was destroyed and everything was gone – all our food and clothes. We made shades out of leaves and stayed like that for four days, wearing the same clothes. It was so painful!”
Jom Jom Abarshom was established by people like Fatema who were looking for safer homes where they could rebuild their lives. In 2011, her community participated in a WFP programme to enhance their resilience to disasters and the effects of climate change under the ‘Partnership of Hope-Asia (LG Hope Family-Enhancing Resilience)’ project funded by LG Electronics.
Preparing For The Next Flood
The villagers came together to identify a project that would help them be better prepared for the next storm. Together, they moved tons of earth to raise the foundations of their village so that their houses and gardens would be safer from floodwaters, and removed accumulated sediment from a nearby canal so water can drain more quickly.
During the rainy season, when work on the project was paused, WFP and local partner NGO ‘Shushilon’ provided trainings on disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.
More than 70 percent of programme participants were women, more vulnerable because they are not free to migrate to find work as men are. Moreover, consistent evidence shows that asset transfers to women leads to increased household and family welfare, food security and dietary diversity.
Food And Cash For Work And Training
In exchange for the time and effort invested in the project, participants received rice, pulses and oil. This diverse food not only helped prevent hunger but also contributed to cover daily nutrition needs. In addition, the Government of Bangladesh distributed the equivalent amount in cash, which the villagers invested in their children’s education, medicine, clothing and building materials for their houses.
The project also gave villagers a chance to invest in their future. One of Fatema’s neighbours bought eight chickens with the cash she received; today she has 45. Other families now grow vegetables in front of their houses and on the fertile banks of re-excavated canals.
The WFP programme even helped change the villagers’ perception of a woman’s role in society. Before the women of Jom Jom Abarshom re-excavated the canal and raised the village foundations, they mainly worked hidden inside their homes. Now they have the confidence to seek work outside.
“Our husbands support us”, a group of female participants agrees. “They see we help our families by working outside and earning money. So now they encourage us to do paid work whenever we can find it.”
A Way Out Of Poverty
In the final stage of the programme, women get additional support to strengthen their families’ economic resilience and improve their food security and nutrition. In 2013, they participate in business development trainings which prepare them to receive a cash grant for investment in income generating activities such as livestock rearing, crop production or small-scale business ventures. For twelve months, they also receive a monthly cash allowance to cushion the family economy while they focus on their investment.
With help from WFP and LG and the revenue of their own hard work and dedication, now - for 10,000 people like Fatema and her neighbours - Life’s Good!