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“No Hurry, No Worry”

I arrive hot and sweaty in Calcutta, India from just across the border in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  I’m amused by the welcoming signs to keep the crazy drivers safe: “No Hurry, No Worry” and “Stay Alert, Stay Alive.” Of course this would be easier said than done without the cows strolling along the dual carriageway…

At the crack of dawn the next day we’re off on a visit to Cyclone-Aila affected areas.  After a hot sweet chai at the local partners office and an overview of what Save the Children is doing (providing child friendly spaces that also provide much needed food to approximately 4,000 people and a second round of distributing hygiene kits to the most vulnerable families), we come face to face with the practical realities and challenges faced by the team on a daily basis. An unofficial checkpoint barricades the way. No vehicles can pass as a protest against the official who was beaten up yesterday by aggrieved villagers at the lack of government response and support in their area.

Half an hour later and we’re moving. Water surrounds us and its difficult to differentiate the rivers and lakes from flooded land until I realise that I’m not looking at boats, but floating roofs. Thankfully the road itself is no longer flooded, although it does flood twice a day now. As the tide recedes it’s even clearer that  I’m looking at flooded paddy fields to the left.

Something that will make this cyclone a far more dangerous problem than the short-term displacement of thousands of farmers, is that many farmers will be unable to cultivate the land or earn a living for a minimum of two years. Job options are in short supply, and a hand to mouth existence is standard.  Save the Children works successfully to stop child trafficking in this area as families can’t afford to keep their children at home and hope (wrongly) that they will have more luck in the big cities. We’re working to help families receive a regular income, get back on their feet and get their children back to school.

We get on a narrow wooden motor boat and go past what looks like lots of islands, dotted together by embankments that have been breached in numerous places. It’s this breach that’s causing the most long-term damage — and something that everyone we talk to wants repaired as soon as possible.

Finally, we’re off the boats onto a narrow strip of land. There are patches of water everywhere (I worry about malaria!). Some houses are mainly intact while the mud walls on others have simply melted away.  Many belongings have joined the flotsam and jetsam leaving families with nothing. The school building is flooded — a lady is pumping water from a well that itself is submersed in floodwater. Establishing clean drinking water is also a top priority.

Curious villagers are delighted to learn that their requests for basic hygiene and household items have been heeded.  Staff give crowds ten short messages on the importance of hand washing, sleeping under bednets and clean drinking water, before registered family heads receive the items.  Every family in this village will receive something as the cyclone has left everyone wanting.  This will only go a small way to repairing their lives and livelihoods — the task for the community, the government and organisations like Save the Children is huge and will be further complicated by the imminent monsoon.

Ten hours later in the hot sun, the overworked and exhausted Save the Children staff take a well-earned snooze to the rhythm of the boat’s loud hum. The committed staff will be carrying out further rounds of distributions, relocating child-friendly spaces to areas that don’t yet have functioning schools and sorting out all the logistical problems this will incur tomorrow.

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