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Cyclone-ravaged Bangladesh villagers thankful for aid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Southern Baptist relief worker surveys the damage in a village devastated by Cyclone Sidr just a couple of weeks earlier. It was a poor community even before the 150-mph winds wrecked the houses and salt water killed their rice crop.

“One family beckoned me to come and see their house -– or at least where their house was,” said Francis Horton, Central and South Asia area director for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international development and relief organization. “A dirt foundation was all that was left and the owner told me he didn’t know where the wood frame and tin walls were now. A 15-foot wave had taken them.

“I asked the man how he was rebuilding, who was helping him, and he said, ‘We are building our house from dust.’ All he had to work with was whatever material and debris he could find lying around.”

The death toll from Cyclone Sidr, which struck the coast of Bangladesh Nov. 15, has topped 3,500 and -– with another 1,000 people still missing -– and is expected go higher. The cyclone also wiped out about 95 percent of the coastal rice crop -– the main source of food in many villages.

“Crop destruction is a big problem because the salty water wiped out most of the rice crops, taking away a large portion of this year’s income as well as seed for next year’s crop,” Horton said. “Southern Baptist world hunger and general relief funds are bringing much-needed relief to cyclone survivors and connecting people in need with people who care.

“We are working with local churches in Bangladesh to deliver food, blankets and cooking utensils in some of the hardest-hit villages along the coast,” he added. “The people we are helping want us to tell Southern Baptists, ‘Thank you.'”

The government of Bangladesh and major relief organizations have done an excellent job of delivering food to storm survivors, but the Southern Baptist assessment team discovered that many families had no way to prepare the food because their pots, pans and cooking utensils had been carried away by the storm, Horton said. In early December, Southern Baptist relief workers distributed cooking utensils to 1,750 families.

On Dec. 10 and 11, Baptist Global Response workers and their field partners visited two villages where they distributed blankets and food packets containing rice, lentils, salt, sugar and oil to about 1,100 families, Horton said. Following that outreach, the team planned to travel farther south to assess the needs in other villages and look at the need for levee repair.

“Two of our team members conducted a distribution in the Kalapara area last week and the folks there expressed that the repair of the levee that had been washed out by Sidr was their biggest need,” Horton said. “We will see if that is being addressed and, if not, how we might be able to help.”

Baptist Global Response also is exploring the need to help rebuild some of the houses destroyed by the storm, Horton said.

“Habitat for Humanity has designed a house they think will be much stronger in the next cyclone and have received a donation to cover the costs of all materials,” he said. “They need partners to provide the organization of labor to get the houses built. We want to see if we can help organize labor, perhaps through a food-for-work project.”

Horton and his team anticipated visiting another district at week’s end to conduct another distribution project for about 1,800 families in five villages. All those distributions were to be conducted through local churches. Blankets are urgently needed because many people are not equipped to cope with the cold weather that will set in during January.

A total of $80,000 has been released for the relief effort, said Jim Brown, stateside director for Baptist Global Response.

“Southern Baptists are able to respond effectively and efficiently to disasters such as this one because of our unique structure,” Brown said. “Because we have personnel in most areas of the world and already have a support structure in place, 100 percent of every donation can be dedicated to the need at hand.”
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn. Information about donating to the Southern Baptist world hunger and general relief funds can be found on the Baptist Global Response website, gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly