Sirajganj, Bangladesh─ When the rain-swollen Jamuna River breached its banks and inundated Sirajganj town 4 years ago, the streets were under knee-deep water, forcing shutdowns of businesses and schools. Even after the rain stopped, the floodwaters took more than 2 months to recede. Roads were ravaged and the town’s poor drainage system ceased to function. Residents returned to homes that were no longer fit to live in.
Today in Sirajganj, a town of around 300,000 people, hardly any trace of the disaster remains. Damaged roads and drains have either been rebuilt or repaired. An embankment that gave way, allowing floodwaters to wash through the town, has been restored.
Sirajganj is back to business, thanks to the implementation of a disaster rehabilitation program by the municipal government with financial assistance from ADB’s concessionary Asian Development Fund.
The Bangladesh floods and cyclone of 2007 affected some 25 million people in 51 districts, with estimated economic losses of $1.05 billion. In response, ADB rapidly approved a concessionary loan of $120 million in January 2008 for the Emergency Disaster Damage Rehabilitation (Sector) Project. With the aim of rehabilitating national and regional highways, district roads, and rural infrastructure in 23 districts and urban infrastructure in 30 municipalities, the assistance helped construct or repair 2,288 kilometers (km) of roads; 6,266 meters of bridges and culverts; and over 372 km of embankments. About 97 km of drains have also been repaired or built and nearly 29 km of canals re-excavated.
“The project contributed to sustainable economic growth by minimizing the devastating impact of the severe floods and cyclone that hit the country in 2007, and at the same time reduced future risk from similar catastrophes,” says Mohammad Nazrul Islam, project officer with ADB’s Bangladesh Resident Mission.
“It also helped build and strengthen the government’s disaster preparedness capacity by adopting cost-effective and disaster-resistant infrastructure design standards and improving early warning systems,” he adds.
But the benefits of the project have gone beyond these dry statistics. It has helped disaster-affected people to recover and rebuild their lives.
Sirajganj, 104 km north of the capital Dhaka, sits on a floodplain in a country buffeted by frequent floods that cause extensive damage to infrastructure and crops. Even though the town is protected by an embankment, residents have long lived in fear that floods may strike at any moment during the monsoon season. That fear has abated since rehabilitation works were carried out on the Jamuna River embankment, while improved drainage and less risk of water backing up during heavy rains also puts minds at ease.
Many Bangladeshis have benefited from the ADB-assisted program in 51 districts and 30 municipalities.
Among those beneficiaries are the poor slum women of Sirajganj, where almost one-third of the town's 300,000 residents live in flimsy huts.
Saleha Begum, a 35-year-old slum dweller, lives close to the newly repaired embankment. Assured that it will protect her from future floods, Saleha is growing vegetables in a small plot of land in front of her hut. Like many of her neighbors, she also raises poultry.
“I don't earn a fortune here, but it is enough to supplement my husband's income and feed our two children,” she says.
"We know floods will come again," says Khandaker in his shop. “But I'm sure our sufferings will be mitigated. We are better prepared now.”