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Responding Amid Bangladesh’s Devastating Floods

Staff members from HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh traveled by bus to provide free medical care and food to people affected by flooding.



People carry supplies through the floodwaters. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh)

When the floods started, the staff members at HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh packed up and made the 12-hour journey by bus.

Flooding has killed 68 people in Bangladesh, the majority of them in the country’s Sylhet region, and left approximately 4.5 million stranded, according to Reuters. Houses and livelihoods have been swept away. Waterborne illnesses, including skin infections and diarrheal disease, quickly spread.

The HOPE staff have responded to mudslides and other disasters before in the Cox’s Bazar area where their field hospital is located. They’ve been training emergency response teams since 2017. But this was their first time responding to an emergency far from home, said founder Dr. Iftikher Mahmood.

Thus far, the team has treated more than 500 people a day via a mobile medical clinic stocked with emergency medical packs and medicines from Direct Relief and has distributed hot meals and dried food to more than 1,000 a day. They continue to travel through flooded areas, providing free medical care, food, and water to people affected by the floods.

Mahmood talked with Direct Relief about his team’s response, what it’s like on the ground for those affected by flooding, and what he anticipates seeing in the weeks and months to come.

Direct Relief: What is the situation like in Sylhet now?

Mahmood: The Sylhet division has multiple districts, and several districts got flooded. The water is actually receding now, but the water level is rising in some other areas. So it’s better in terms of the flood, but it is still unpredictable.

It was a big event. A number of people lost their lives, unfortunately. At the same time, many people have been displaced, properties have been damaged, and livestock has been damaged. [People] became homeless.

But support from all over the country actually poured in: social organizations, non-governmental organizations, private individuals, also the government. A lot of people came to help.

Direct Relief: And a HOPE for Bangladesh team responded as well. Can you talk a little bit about your response?

Mahmood: We are far from that area, definitely a few hundred miles. In Bangladesh, a few hundred miles is a long way.

But because we are a humanitarian organization, and we have experience working with the refugees in Cox’s Bazar, we have teams of people who can respond quickly. Also, we have some supplies from Direct Relief, and when it happened, we quickly decided to send a team [that included two paramedics] with dry food and medicines.

And the next day, we sent four more, and the following day we sent a six-person medical team. So in total, 14 people are in Sylhet right now, and also we recruited volunteers locally. They are cooking food because we are distributing hot meals, and also dried food.

HOPE staff members distribute food to people affected by the flooding in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh)

Since we had the medical team arrive, we set up a mobile medical clinic, so we went to different locations.

Direct Relief: What is your staff seeing on the ground as they respond?

Mahmood: Now, our people are serving in areas where it’s still flooded.

When the flood water receded, a lot of people are homeless so they’re still in shelters. And there are some outbreaks of intestinal infection, skin infection, respiratory infection. But we are serving them, giving them treatment: medical examinations, free medication. And also, we are giving them clean water.

The support is coming, but some places probably got good support and some places probably still need support.

Direct Relief: Tell me about your disaster response training.

Mahmood: We got training locally in Cox’s Bazar. We’ve been training for these kinds of emergencies because, in our area, there are a lot of natural disasters like cyclones, mudslides. So we get trained agencies every year through the UN agencies and through our own training.

We’ve had an emergency response team since 2017.

This is a good exercise for us, away from home. That tells us that we can actually mobilize our team to many other places whenever it’s needed. And also, we can increase [our] capacity; we can expand the team. In case we need thirty people or forty people, we have the experience of traveling to a distant place and giving service without any trouble.

It went extremely well. I was not only surprised; I was very pleased.

Direct Relief: What were the greatest needs when your team arrived, both medical and otherwise?

Mahmood: When they arrived, what they needed most was food. Now that water is receding, the greatest need is medical support. And next will be rehabilitation. Many people lost their homes. Some areas are very poor areas, so their homes are small and fragile, and the flood washed them away.

Direct Relief: You had some existing medical support from Direct Relief that you mentioned was helpful. What supplies did you have, and how did they help your team?

Mahmood: We have been getting emergency response supplies from Direct Relief since 2017. We had emergency [medic] packs; we have water purification tablets; we have small procedural equipment. We have antibiotics, antibacterial cream, many ointments. We have a range of things.

Direct Relief: How did these floods compare to other disasters you’ve responded to in the past?

Mahmood: We’ve responded to several floods locally. The difference is in our area, many times, there are mudslides, which can be acute and dangerous. It sometimes happens unnoticed. But this is a big area, so it was different. But both are dangerous. It gave us a good lesson on how to respond in different circumstances. It made our team really strong.

A staff member consults with a patient at a HOPE mobile medical clinic.. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh)

Direct Relief: Financial inflation has been a major problem in Bangladesh, as in the U.S. Has that affected this disaster or its response?

Mahmood: Yes, prices are higher.

There are always people who, even aside from inflation, when things like this happen, try to take advantage and raise the prices for services and goods. That’s always there. But as a humanitarian organization, we only focus at this time on people and what they need. So we pull resources together from different places and try to do a job to save lives.

And also, we got support from good people and organizations, who gave money and other supplies.

So inflation is a problem, but we did what we had to do.

Direct Relief: People are still in the immediate aftermath of this disaster. What concerns do you have for affected people going forward in the coming weeks or months?

Mahmood: We’ll be watching out for different kinds of illnesses. Especially small children, especially elderly people, I think they’ll have respiratory problems. Asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia. And people who have chronic conditions, if they have diabetes or hypertension, if they’ve lost their medication, they will have problems. Diarrheal diseases. Some will need hospitalization.

I worry about the kids, pregnant women, and elderly people. Because they will have problems that they won’t expect.

And of course, after that, they have to find a place to live. In this kind of area, there are a lot of financial issues, so now they will need help to rebuild their houses.

The government has provided a lot of support already, and there is good coordination in that administration, so I think a lot of people will get help from the government, and also NGOs and other organizations and individuals will come together and try to help these people.

A shipment containing over 4,000 pounds of medical aid, valued at $81,000, left Direct Relief’s warehouse on June 29, bound for HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh. The shipment contains wound care products, surgical instruments, vitamins, IV fluids, and other medical supplies. Additional support is currently being coordinated.

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