Flood Protection Beyond Dams: Building Resilience In Bangladesh

Anjuara feeds the bull she bought with a cash grant from WFP. Once grown, she will sell the animal and reinvest the profit to increase and diversify her family’s income in the long term.

Photo: WFP/Masud Al Mamun

Resilience to natural disasters has many aspects – a home safe from flooding, the knowledge and skills to prepare for and cope with disasters, and the financial security to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of a shock. In Bangladesh, WFP tackles all these issues with a comprehensive programme.

Anjuara Begum, her husband and three children live in Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh – a land of mighty rivers. Every year, during the rainy season, the rivers swell and take with them blocks of land – agricultural fields, roads, even small settlements. In 2003, Anjuara and her family lost their home to the floods.

 

"The ground started breaking away during the night. In the dark, we had to move our house and everything we owned,” Anjuara recalls with a deep sigh. The family still lives close to the river on government land just next to an embankment, the only space landless families can occupy without objections.

After the move the family struggled: “My husband became a day labourer, but it was tough to get a job every day. When he didn’t find work, we sometimes had no food for us and the kids,” Anjuara recalls. But her face lights up as she remembers the day, almost three years ago now, when her life took a turn for the better: "I was sitting on the embankment along with some of my neighbours, those who are jobless like me. Suddenly a stranger walked up and asked us if there are any poor people living in the area. Later we learned the man was from WFP.”

“He offered us to sit together with other locals, including the upazila chairman and other leaders. During the meeting, we wrote down the names of all local people in three categories: rich, poor and ultra-poor. Everyone agreed on the list, and then we, the ultra-poor people, got a chance to work on projects that protect our community.”

Like her, thousands of people living in north-western flood prone areas and along the southern coast of Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to natural calamities. Under the Enhancing Resilience to Natural Disasters and the Effects of Climate Change programme, the Government of Bangladesh’s Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and WFP, with support from NGOs, engages 80,000 ultra-poor rural women and men in cash and food for work and training to increase their resilience to future disasters. Together, they repair and reinforce embankments, raise roads, excavate canals and ponds and elevate the ground around their houses in order to protect their communities from flooding, water-logging and increasing salinity, and to boost agricultural production.

From 2011 to 2012, Anjuara and her ultra-poor neighbours repaired and raised a road in their neighbourhood as part of a cash/food for work project. Now this road not only improves access to schools, markets and health centres in the area but also serves as a dam, protecting their community and fields from flooding.

During the rainy season, when earthworks are too difficult, Anjuara and her neighbours participated in training sessions on disaster preparedness and response, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. In exchange for their time and labour, they received nutritious food rations from WFP and the equivalent in cash from the Government of Bangladesh.

In 2013, Anjuara and 18,000 women across Bangladesh became the first participants to start a third programme year. In order to further strengthen families’ resilience to natural disaster, WFP used lessons learned from the successful Food Security for the Ultra Poor project which helped 30,000 women and their families rise out of extreme poverty.

Through NGO partners, WFP organized trainings to help the women identify activities that match their skills and local demand, and develop a business plan. They then received a cash grant to invest, and a monthly allowance to help support their families while they focused on making their businesses successful.

In the trainings, Anjuara also learned to invest in diverse assets to ensure her family still has some income even if one of them is damaged. She applied these lessons immediately, using her 12,000 taka cash grant, combined with savings from the cash/food for work project she participated in, to purchase a bull and a rickshaw.

For six months, a monthly allowance of 500 taka helps Anjuara take care of her family’s needs while she fattens the bull to sell at a profit, and her husband builds up a rickshaw transport service. The animal is already paying dividends as the dung can be sold as fuel.

The older two of Anjuara’s three children are now studying in primary school. “I am so happy that I can send my children to school and that I can buy them the school clothing and study materials they need” says Anjuara. “And they always eat three meals a day now,” she adds proudly.

Her new-found financial security even encouraged Anjuara to make big plans for the future: “With the revenues I make from bull fattening, I think I will be able to buy a small piece of homestead land – then we can finally move away from the river.”