Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wind and Water

Global Newsflash: Cyclone Sidr hits Bangladesh, thousands die
Reality Check Newsflash: Crops lost, thousands may die

To quote a famous little jingle, "one of these things is not like the other!" Bangladesh was struck by a deadly cyclone on Thursday night, and the death toll is rising daily. This is likely not news to most, and I am very thankful for everyone's concern for my safety. Being here, in the midst of this crisis is very surreal. I live in Mymensingh, a district barely affected by the storm, an area in which most people have no idea of the pain other Bangladeshis are experiencing. Yes Thursday night was odd, "why all this wind and water?" was a common question. But here the concept of cyclone is not on anyone's mind.

The current situation in the south is something most of you will know more about than me. I know the death toll is over 2000 people so far and will undoubtedly rise, but until you see the situation a death toll is meaningless. Who are the dead? The answer is obvious, because it is the same people who are likely to die from disease and malnutrition, it is the poorest in society. The dead are those who were not accepted into the cyclone shelters, the people who are so poor they had no warning that a storm was coming. The forgotten in Bangladesh, never mind the world, those people are the worst affected by this disaster. And the help that will come for the survivors of this disaster is important, but media does something to people which is a blessing and a curse, the media shows the "exciting" stories of the suffering and loss of poor in Southern Bangladesh. The media does not show the boring stories of children wasting away with no rice to eat, the stories of people who have to find a new piece of plastic to use for a house, the stories of the forgotten people in Bangladesh.

The future is not something we can predict, nor do I hold by these predictions. But I would like to describe some of the possibilities to come for Bangladeshis, long after the international media has forgotten about them. The risk of flooding in Bangladesh, for the third time this year, is a distinct possibility as the remains of Sidr cross over the Himalayas and wash down the rivers and through Bangladesh. More flooding can only compound the problems caused by Sidr long after the international attention fades. Here and now, I see very little effects of Sidr, as I travel around the area the only real sign of the storm is in the puddles and flooded paddies surrounding the city. But this innocent sight could compound an already challenging year causing more pain throughout the country than the original storm did. The storm came and went, it was dramatic and powerful. The starvation and hunger which may grip the nation as a result of losing rice for the third time in as many months is an even bigger problem. In the south 95% of crops were destroyed by the storm, and even in the least affected areas, the crops were destroyed.

Now what? What will happen to the price of rice, already rising monthly? What will happen to the winter vegetables bringing nutrients? How will the average family be able to afford to eat? These are questions which rise in my mind. And starvation will hide in the villages, it will hide away in the bloated stomachs of little children, forgotten by the world when the storm passes over. My hope is that anyone reading this thinks about the real impact of this storm. And not just for the people of Bangladesh, because the people of Bangladesh constantly face a barrage of natural forces which create an international fervour, but that people also think about the people of Burma, of Laos, of Pakistan, and elsewhere. When the media focuses your attention on the graphic and the exciting, the challenge I put forth is to equally remember those who are too often forgotten. To remember the poor as they struggle for rice, to remember the injured and handicapped and to remember to love them all. This is my challenge to you.



Selena said...

I'm thinking of taking a teaching position in Bangladesh myself.

3 days after the cyclone, the infrastructures are not in place for volunteer work. However I am hopeful that they will develop soon. I'm sure there will be even more need for schools, food, water, and social services.
Having experience there, do you think foreigners could be at all useful to the country in the efforts to rebuild? Any thoughts appreciated; please email.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insightful and "real" comments...they will impact people here in Ontario.
Glad you are there and able to be a witness and messenger.

Tim Schmucker said...

Thanks for your reflections, Steve. I've sent your comments to my MCC Ontario peace and justice email list.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Greetings from Waterloo! My husband and I were in Bangladesh for 3 years with MCC between 1998 and 2001. Your blog brought back a lot of memories for me. Please say a special hello to Ms. Nath and the Taize brothers from us. We would love to meet you and hear your stories first hand when you're back.

Blessings in your work!

Anita Fieguth and Dave Willms

Steve said...

There are lots of ways bideshis (foreigners) can be useful in Bangladesh. Taking a teaching position, especially English could be really useful especially in a poor area. The English teaching here is so poor that people cannot easily get international jobs.

Working here to rebuild is a wonderful idea, but what is needed more than anything is a way for the building materials to be purchased at a fair price. Bangladesh is full of workers who would love to rebuild and get paid for it, but someone along the way is getting rich and the people suffer as a consequence.

Bangladeshis here are so very welcoming and kind, they enjoy foreigners coming and actually being with them instead of just giving them handouts. So foreigners are useful here so long as they are not sitting somewhere in a fancy hotel drainin money that is needed by the people suffering and starving.