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Once devastated, now buzzing: The ‘rags-to-riches’ story of a Bangladeshi hamlet

On May 25, 2009, Cyclone Aila hit south-western Bangladesh. Sutarkhali in Khulna’s Dacope upazila was one of the remote villages in the Sunderbans pummelled by the cyclonic storm. The powerful cyclone destroyed farm lands and flattened houses in the village, pushing local residents to the brink of extreme poverty.

Cut to January 2021. A busy winter morning. This remote village is buzzing with activities. Farmers are back in the fields, fishermen in the sea, women juggling household chores and family, and children getting ready to go to schools.

Kalipada Mondol, a teacher at Sutarkhali Secondary School, says today, the fate of the village has changed completely. “The village’s damaged dam has been rebuilt. And the village now has access to electricity and safe drinking water, all thanks to the efforts of the government as well as some non-government organisations,” he says.

Aila had ravaged all the farm lands in the village. It damaged soil to such an extent that nothing could be cultivated for over two and a half years. Not only farmers, other residents of the village are now growing vegetables on their house premises throughout the year.

Bakkar Sardar lost everything during the devastation caused by the cyclone. Nearly 11 years on, he now owns a brand new house with a large kitchen garden on its premises. “Indeed, we lost our homes and livelihoods. But our lives have now changed for the better, particularly after the Water & Power Development Authority rebuilt the damaged dam.”

Locals say the protective dam being built by the Bangladesh government in the region, with financial assistance from the World Bank, is also on the verge of completion. “A Chinese firm excavated soil for the dam, thus paving the way for a number of ponds in the village. These small water bodies are now being used for fresh water fish farming,” says a villager.

The youths are also a happy lot. “We used to live in mud houses. Our house is now a brick and concrete structure,” says Abdur Rahman Gazi, a resident of the neighbouring Kalabagi village.

Sutarkhali upazila parishad chairman Masum Ali Fakir says that village after village had been flattened by Aila. “After nearly 11 years, there are still some problems in the village but the government and non-government investments in infrastructure, health and education have driven growth,” he says.

Dacope upazila agriculture officer Mehedi Hasan Khan says dependency on Aman crops has also decreased in this area in the past couple of years. “People are now growing all vegetable varieties,” he says.

Source: United News of Bangladesh